All About Heart Rate

What's the difference between blood pressure and heart rate?

When learning about high blood pressure, you might see heart rate mentioned in relation to exercise.

Your blood pressure is the force of your blood while moving through your vessels.

Your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute. Your heart rate is commonly called your pulse. 

What should you know about your heart rate?

Understanding your heart rate can help you monitor your fitness level and heart health. It might even help you spot health problems.

Changes in your heart rate may suggest a heart condition or other health problems, especially as you age.

Heart rate, blood pressure and exercise

Your target heart rate is based on age and can help you check the intensity of your exercise.

  • Your heart rate increases as you exercise. The heart is pumping more blood to deliver oxygen to your working muscles.
  • Your diastolic blood pressure (the second number in your blood pressure reading) will also rise.
  • When you stop exercising, your heart rate does not return to your normal resting heart rate right away.
  • The more often you exercise, the sooner your heart rate should return to normal. 

How do you check if your heart rate is normal?

The best places to find your pulse are the:

  • Wrists
  • Inside of your elbow
  • Either side of your neck
  • Top of your foot

Two fingers on wrist checking the pulse

To get the most accurate reading on your wrist:

  • Locate the artery on the inner wrist of either arm. Lightly place your index and middle fingers on the artery. You should feel each beat against your fingers.
  • Count the number of beats in 60 seconds

Your resting heart rate is the heart pumping the number of times needed to deliver blood to the body when you’re not exercising. A normal resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute if you are sitting or lying and you are calm and feeling well.

If you have a resting heart rate lower than 60, you may have bradycardia. A heart rate lower than 60 doesn’t always signal a medical problem. It could be the result of taking a drug such as a beta blocker or other medication. A lower heart rate is also common for athletes. That’s because their heart muscle is in good condition and does not need to work as hard. A low amount of physical activity doesn’t usually change the resting heart rate much. Heart rate may also be lower while sleeping.

If you have a resting heart rate of over 100, you may have tachycardia. A high heart rate isn’t always a sign of a problem. It could be a sign or symptom of another condition that may be temporary.

How other factors affect heart rate

  • Temperature: Outside temperatures may affect heart rate and an increase in body temperature may increase the heart rate.
  • Body position: Your heart rate is usually similar whether you are resting, sitting or standing still. Your heart rate may go up a little bit when you first stand up. Your heart rate should go back to normal after a few minutes.
  • Exercise: Your heart rate increases with the intensity of the activity you’re doing.
  • Emotions: Your pulse can increase if you are stressed, anxious, happy or sad. Pain may also increase your heart rate.
  • Body size: People with obesity might have a higher heart rate than people without obesity.
  • Medication use: Beta blockers, calcium channel blockers  and several other medications can slow your heart rate.

When to call your health care professional

Your heart rate is just one tool to help get a picture of your health.

Tell your health care professional if you have noticed that your heart rate has been beating slower or faster than usual. You may also have had symptoms such as feeling weak, dizzy or like you might faint.

Call 911 if your heart rate is suddenly very high or very low for you, especially if you have symptoms that may include chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, fainting or other signs that something is not right.

Heart rate and beta blockers

If you’re on a beta blocker to decrease your heart rate (and lower blood pressure) or to control an abnormal rhythm, you may be asked to monitor and log your heart rate. Ask your health care professional when and how often to track your heart rate.

Keeping track of your heart rate can help your health care professional decide if:

  • Your dose needs to be changed
  • You need a different medication  

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