Your resting heart rate (RHR) is how many times your heart beats per minute while your body’s at rest. It provides a rough snapshot of your heart health and longevity.
According to the American Heart Association, 48% of all US adults have cardiovascular disease.1 Heart disease is also the leading cause of death for all American adults.
That’s why it’s crucial to get an accurate gauge of your heart health, before disease sets in. Your resting heart rate is one simple way to do that.
This article will explore what a “normal” RHR is, what your resting heart rate says about you, and how to improve your heart health.
What is a normal resting heart rate?
Normal resting heart rates for adults range anywhere from 60 to 100 beats per minute. But heart rate varies depending on your genes and gender at birth.
Women tend to have higher resting heart rates than men.2 Since women’s hearts are typically smaller, they have to beat faster to match the output of a male’s heart.
Stress, physical activity, certain medications, caffeine, and alcohol can all influence your resting heart rate.
Any RHR under 60 is viewed as low and is known as bradycardia. Low resting heart rates are common with athletes and often suggest better heart function.
For those that aren’t physically active, a low RHR could spell trouble. This is especially true if you’re experiencing symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue, confusion, shortness of breath, or fainting.
Health conditions that may cause low resting heart rate include:
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Sleep apnea
- Congenital heart defects
- Heart damage3
Any RHR over 100 is considered high. This is known as tachycardia. High resting heart rates could be due to:
- Sedentary lifestyles
A high RHR is often a warning sign that something is amiss. Higher resting heart rates are linked with heart disease and an increased risk of premature death.4 That’s why it’s critical to speak with your doctor if your RHR is over 100.
Other heart rate measurements to consider
Your resting heart rate provides an overview of your heart health and can be used to detect heart problems.
Yet, resting heart rate is just one piece of the puzzle. Here are some other ways to get insights into your heart health:
- Heart rate recovery – This is how long it takes your heart to return to its resting pace after exercise. In general, the better shape your heart is in, the quicker it returns to its baseline.
- Heart rate variability – This is a measurement of the amount of time between each heartbeat and how much it varies. Heart rate variability can offer clues about the health of your nervous system.
- Sleeping heart rate – During sleep, your heart slows down. A normal sleeping heart rate is around 40-50 beats per minute.
How to test heart rate
Your resting heart rate is best measured first thing in the morning before you get out of bed. This can give you more accurate data than if you’re measuring at random intervals throughout the day.
Thanks to fitness trackers and smartwatches, testing your heart rate is easier than ever. But you don’t need fancy gadgets to measure your heart rate. All you need is 30 seconds and two fingers to check your pulse.
How to check your pulse:
- Place your pointer finger and middle finger on the inside of your wrist (just below your thumb). You can also check your pulse on the side of your neck, 1-2 inches below your jawline.
- Set a timer for 30 seconds.
- Count the number of beats during that time.
- Multiply that number by two. That’s your RHR.
Besides taking your pulse, several tools can measure your heart rate, including:
- Smartwatches and fitness trackers – These devices provide an easy way to test your heart rate and keep track of your data. This can help you monitor whether your heart rate is improving or alert you if your RHR is getting too high. The downside? If you check your data too often, it may lead to anxiety or even obsession.
- Chest band devices – This is another popular tool that many athletes use to monitor heart health. These strap around your chest and use electrical detection to measure your heart rate.
- Pulse oximeters – These devices clip onto your finger to measure your pulse and blood oxygen levels. They’re commonly used in healthcare settings but can be purchased for at-home use as well.
- Transdermal optical imaging – This novel technology measures blood flow changes in the face via a digital camera. It’s shown to be an accurate way to measure both heart rate and heart rate variability.5
If your heart rate is higher than you’d like, don’t despair. Making some lifestyle shifts may be all it takes to get your heart rate at a healthier level.
How to Improve Your Heart Health
There are many ways to improve your heart health to reduce the risks of future illness. Here are a few.
Get regular exercise
Exercise is by far the best way to improve your heart health. After all, your heart is a muscle. The more you work it, the stronger it gets!
Research shows that staying physically active reduces your resting heart rate.6 While all forms of exercise improve heart health, yoga and endurance training (cardio) tend to show the most benefits.
Smokers have consistently higher resting heart rates than those who don’t smoke.7 Smoking also raises your blood pressure, which puts extra stress on your heart. So if you smoke, consider quitting. Your heart will thank you.
Eat a healthy diet
If you want a healthy heart, you must fuel it properly. That means steering clear of fast foods, processed meats, and sugary sweets. Instead, opt for a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and healthy fats.
Being dehydrated takes a toll on all your organs, including your heart. Luckily, you can remedy this by staying well hydrated. Research shows that drinking water can reduce resting heart rate in just 30 minutes.8 Most health experts recommend drinking around two liters of water per day.
Limit alcohol and caffeine
Alcohol and caffeine both cause a temporary increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Drinking alcohol and caffeine in excess can also dehydrate your body, which further stresses your heart.9 10
Keep a regular sleep schedule
Research shows that getting enough sleep lowers heart rate and blood pressure.11 But it’s not just how long you sleep that matters, it’s when. Keeping irregular bedtimes increases your resting heart rate overnight and into the next day.12 So set a regular sleep schedule and stick to it!
You can’t avoid stress altogether. But you can practice relaxation techniques to keep your stress in check. Yoga, meditation, and breathwork all relax your nervous system to melt away stress, which helps your heart. In fact, one study found that practicing slow deep breathing daily lowered heart rate in just 7 days.13
Check your meds
Certain medications may increase resting heart rate. These include asthma medications, cold meds, certain antibiotics, and even some antidepressants. Also, some medications, such as beta-blockers, may lower heart rates. If you’re concerned that one of your medications is affecting your heart, speak with your doctor. They may adjust your dosage or substitute a more suitable option.
Resting heart rate summary
Your resting heart rate is an easy way to gauge your heart health. But keep in mind that RHR is just one piece of the puzzle. It’s important to use other health assessments to get a more complete overview of your health and well-being.
If you find that your heart rate is higher than you’d like, practicing healthy lifestyle habits may help. Getting regular exercise, quality sleep, and managing stress can all help lower your heart rate and support your overall health.
About Mindy Palmer
Mindy Palmer is a wellness writer and certified holistic health coach. She enjoys inspiring others to live healthier lives by creating informative content for leading-edge health and wellness brands.
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