Heart rate is also commonly known as pulse rate and beats per minute(bpm). Heart rate is the number of times a heart beats per minute. Proper knowledge and awareness about your heart rate can certainly help you monitor fitness level, and it may help you in taking proactive steps against developing health problems if you are experiencing other symptoms.

A normal resting heart rate differs from person to person, but for adults, it ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute.

In general, a normal heart rate depends on various factors associated with the individual:

  • Age
  • Fitness level
  • Activity level
  • Body size
  • Medical conditions-Cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, Diabetes etc
  • Body position-Whether the person is sitting or moving
  • Medications and treatment undergoing
  • Air temperature
  • Emotional state- for example, getting excited or scared can increase your bpm

Lowers pulse rate at rest implies good cardiovascular fitness and a better heart function.  A well-trained athlete may have a resting heart rate of 40 to 60 beats per minute, according to cardiovascular research studies.

“Your heart is a muscle and just like strengthening other muscles by doing activities, you can do the same thing with your heart,” said Dr. Mary Ann Bauman, an internist at Integris Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City.

Heart rate vs Blood pressure

We come across many people confuse heart rate with blood pressure. In layman’s language, pulse rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute, while Blood pressure is the measurement of the force of the blood against the walls of arteries.

Direct correlation between the two does not exist. High blood pressure, or hypertension, does not necessarily result in a high pulse rate, and vice versa. Pulse rate goes up during performing a strenuous activity, but such activity may only modestly increase your blood pressure.

How to measure heart rate?

The easiest places to measure your pulse rate, according to the AHA, are:

  • Wrists
  • Inside of an elbow
  • Side of the neck
  • Top of the foot

Measuring your pulse rate is simply checking your pulse. Place your index and third fingers on your neck to the side of your windpipe. To check your pulse at your wrist, place two fingers between the bone and the tendon over your radial artery — which is located on the thumb side of your wrist.

When you feel your pulse, count the number of beats in 15 seconds. Multiply this number by four to calculate your beats per minute.

Resting heart rate

Your resting heart rate is your pulse rate when you are sitting or lying calmly. The best way to measure your resting heart rate is to measure in the morning before you get out of bed, according to the AHA.

According to AHA, Normal resting heart rate for adults 18 and older varies between 60 and 100 beats per minute (bpm), depending on the individual’s age and physical condition. For children age 6 to 15, the normal resting heart rate is between 70 and 100 bpm.

Pulse rate lower than 60 doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a medical problem. Active people often have lower heart rates because their heart muscles are more efficient and need less to work to maintain a steady beat. Athletes and people who are very fit can have a resting heart rate of 40 bpm. A resting heart rate lower than 60 could also be the result of taking certain medications. Many medications people take especially medication for blood pressure, such as the beta blockers, will lower your heart rate.

Although, this is a wide range of normal, an unusually high or low pulse rate may indicate an underlying problem. Consult your doctor if your resting heart rate is consistently above 100 beats a minute (tachycardia) or if you’re not a trained athlete and your resting heart rate is below 60 beats a minute (bradycardia) — especially if you have other signs or symptoms, such as fainting, dizziness or shortness of breath.

Maximum and target heart rate

There are no definitive medical guidelines on when a resting heart rate is too high, but most medical experts opine that a consistent pulse rate in the upper levels may put too much stress not only on the heart but also on other organs. If a person has a high heart rate at rest and is experiencing other symptoms, doctors may examine his or her heart function.

Assessing your pulse rate during workout sessions can help know whether you are doing too much or not enough, the AHA says. Every individual has his target zone and when they exercise in their target heart zone, they reap most benefits and improve their heart’s health. When your pulse rate is in the target zone, you are pushing the muscle to get stronger.

According to AHA, a person’s target heart rate zone is between 50 percent and 85 percent of his or her maximum heart rate.

Most followed rule for calculating maximum heart rate is simply subtracting your age from 220. For a 28-year-old person, for example 220 – 28 = 192.

The target zone for a 28-year-old person would be between 50 and 85 percent of his or her maximum heart rate:

  • 50 percent: 192 x 0.50 = 96 bpm
  • 85 percent: 192 x 0.85 = 163 bpm

For a 40-year-old person, the target zone would be between 90 and 153 bpm.

For a 50-year-old person, the target zone would be between 85 and 145 bpm.

For a 60-year-old person, the target zone would be between 80 and 136 bpm.

You can either manually calculate your beats per minute during exercise or use heart rate monitors that wrap around the chest or are included in sports watches. It is highly advisable to exercise regularly to improve heart health.

Lowering a rapid pulse rate

Pulse rates can spike due to nervousness, stress, dehydration, and overexertion. Sitting down and taking slow, deep breaths can generally lower your pulse rate. Exercising and getting fitter will usually lower heart rate, too.

Cooling down after a workout is very important. The reason is your heart is beating faster, your body temperature is higher and your blood vessels are dilated, stopping too fast could make you feel sick or even pass out.

The AHA recommends stretching and walking after intense cardio exercise. Stretching helps to reduce the buildup of lactic acid, which causes cramps and stiff muscles. Follow these tips:

  • Walk for about 5 minutes, or until your pulse rate gets below 120 beats per minute.
  • Stretch, and hold each stretch 10 to 30 seconds. If you feel you need more, stretch the other side and return for another set of stretching.
  • The stretch should be strong, but not painful.
  • Do not bounce.
  • Breathe while you’re stretching. Exhale as you stretch, inhale while holding the stretch.

Arrhythmia, tachycardia and other conditions

A number of conditions that can affect your bpm. An arrhythmia causes the heart to beat too fast, too slow or with an irregular rhythm. 

Tachycardia is generally considered when the resting heart rate of over 100 bpm, according to the National Institutes of Health, and generally caused when electrical signals in the heart’s upper chambers fire abnormally. If the pulse rate is closer to 150 bpm or higher, it is a condition known as supraventricular tachycardia (SVT). In SVT, your heart’s electrical system, which controls the pulse rate, is out of whack. This generally requires medical attention.

Bradycardia, on the other hand, is a condition where the pulse rate is too low, typically less than 60 bpm. This can be the result of problems with the sinoatrial node, which acts as the pacemaker, or damage to the heart as a result of a heart attack or cardiovascular disease. 

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