What should you know about your heart rate?
Even if you’re not an athlete, knowledge about your heart rate can help you monitor your fitness level — and it might even help you spot developing health problems.
Your heart rate, or pulse, is the number of times your heart beats per minute. Normal heart rate varies from person to person. Knowing yours can be an important heart-health gauge.
“As you age, changes in the rate and regularity of your pulse can change and may signify a heart condition or other condition that needs to be addressed,” said Richard Stein, M.D., professor of medicine and cardiology at the New York University School of Medicine in New York City and a volunteer for the American Heart Association.
Where is it and what is a normal heart rate?
The best places to find your pulse are the:
- inside of your elbow
- side of your neck
- top of the foot
To get the most accurate reading, put your finger over your pulse and count the number of beats in 60 seconds, Stein said.
Your resting heart rate is the heart pumping the lowest amount of blood you need because you’re not exercising. If you’re sitting or lying and you’re calm, relaxed and aren’t ill, your heart rate is normally between 60 (beats per minute) and 100 (beats per minute), Stein said.
But a heart rate lower than 60 doesn’t necessarily signal a medical problem. It could be the result of taking a drug such as a beta blocker. A lower heart rate is also common for people who get a lot of physical activity or are very athletic, Stein said. Active people often have lower heart rates because their heart muscle is in better condition and doesn’t need to work as hard to maintain a steady beat.
“Moderate physical activity doesn’t usually change the resting pulse much,” Stein said. “If you’re very fit, it could change to 40. A less active person might have a heart rate between 60 and 100,” he added. That’s because the heart muscle has to work harder to maintain bodily functions, making it higher.
How Other Factors Affect Heart Rate
- Air temperature: When temperatures (and the humidity) soar, the heart pumps a little more blood, so your pulse rate may increase, but usually no more than five to 10 beats a minute.
- Body position: Resting, sitting or standing, your pulse is usually the same. Sometimes as you stand for the first 15 to 20 seconds, your pulse may go up a little bit, but after a couple of minutes it should settle down. Emotions: If you’re stressed, anxious or “extraordinarily happy or sad” your emotions can raise your pulse.
- Body size: Body size usually doesn’t usually change pulse. If you’re very obese, you might see a higher resting pulse than normal, but usually not more than 100.
- Medication use: Meds that block your adrenaline (beta blockers) tend to slow your pulse, while too much thyroid medication or too high of a dosage will raise it.
When To Call Your Doctor
If you’re on a beta blocker to decrease your heart rate (and lower blood pressure) or to control a another abnormal rhythm (arrhythmia), your doctor may ask you to monitor and log your heart rate. Keeping tabs on your heart rate can help your doctor determine whether to change the dosage or switch to a different medication.
“If your pulse is very low or if you have frequent episodes of unexplained fast heart rates, especially if they cause you to feel weak or dizzy or faint, tell your doctor, who can decide if it’s an emergency,” Stein said. “Your pulse is one tool to help get a picture of your health.”
This content was last reviewed July 2015.