The emergence of smartwatches has helped more people become better aware of heart rate data. Resting heart rate (RHR) is one of the most important pieces of that data to monitor, as it is an indicator of good or poor overall heart health.
Your heart rate – also known as a pulse rate – is the number of times your heart beats per minute. Your RHR is the number of times your heart beats per minute while at rest. In other words, it’s your heart rate while you are not moving much and not physically exerting yourself at all. Conversely, the rate at which your heart beats when it is works its hardest to meet your body's oxygen needs is your maximum heart rate.
What do high and low resting heart rates mean?
It’s important to track your RHR because it helps predict your risk for cardiac events. Most healthy adult men and women should have an RHR in the 60 to 100 beats-per-minute range. Your RHR can vary based on age, gender, genetics, and physical activity level. Generally, a slower RHR is healthier than a fast one.
Lower resting heart rates imply more efficient heart function and better cardiovascular fitness. Experts believe that rates at the low end may offer protection against heart attacks. Well-trained athletes may have heart rates in the 40s,a rate that is considered abnormally low for the general population. Exercise strengthens the heart muscle, allowing it to pump a greater volume of blood with each heartbeat. Then, more oxygen is delivered to the muscles, so the heart needs to beat fewer times than it would in a resting person who is not in tip top physical shape.
In general, for adults, an RHR of fewer than 60 beats per minute (BPM) is known as bradycardia, which carries complications such as heart failure, frequent fainting and cardiac arrest in extreme cases.
A consistently high RHR could signal inefficient heart function, and in some cases, it can indicate an underlying heart condition. According to Harvard Medical School, a high RHR has been linked to atherosclerosis, sudden death, and an increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. A resting heart rate regularly above 100 beats per minute is known as tachycardia and is considered dangerous.
You should contact your doctor if your RHR is too high or too low, especially if you experience accompanying signs or symptoms like fainting, dizziness, or shortness of breath.
How to measure resting heart rate
The best time to measure your RHR is right when you wake up, before you even get out of bed. Measure it at the wrist by lightly pressing the index and middle fingers together on the opposite wrist, below the fat pad of the thumb. Count the number of beats in 15 seconds, and multiply by four and that is your RHR. Gauge your maximum heart rate by taking your pulse immediately after vigorous exercise.
How can I modify my resting heart rate?
Important lifestyle changes can lead you to a healthier RHR. High levels of stress and anxiety, as well as certain medications can influence your RHR.
A regular exercise program is the best way to lower your RHR. Here are other ways to stabilize your RHR:
- Avoid binge drinking alcohol
- Avoid energy drinks
- Limit the amount of coffee you drink
- Quit smoking
If you don't exercise regularly, check with your primary care provider before setting target heart rate. Together, you can examine which medication you are on that may affect your heart rate while exercising so that you can set realistic goals together.
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