Everyone wants to know what is normal, especially when it comes to heart health. Basic questions that are often asked or searched on the internet include:
- How do I determine a heart rate?
- What is a normal heart rate or pulse rate?
- What is a normal resting heart rate?
- What is a normal exercising heart rate?
These questions are easily answered and can provide reassuring information to those worried about their heart health.
When it comes to the beating of your heart cardiologists take note of two major parts, the rhythm and the rate. There are three different rhythms of a heartbeat, 1) regular, 2) regularly irregular, or 3) irregularly irregular (e.g. atrial fibrillation). By far the most common rhythm of the heart is a regular rhythm, which is usually sinus rhythm (i.e. the normal pacemaker system of the heart) in the vast majority of people. The remainder of this post will assume your heart is in sinus rhythm and will discuss heart rate.
How Do I Determine Heart Rate?
- Take your pulse on the inside of your wrist on the thumb side or on the side of your neck next to your larynx (i.e. voice box or Adam’s apple).
- Use the tips of your first two fingers (index and middle fingers) to press lightly over the blood vessels on your wrist or neck.
- Count your pulse for the number of beats in 60 seconds (1 minute) or count your pulse for the number of beats in 10 seconds and multiply by 6 to find your beats per minute.
What is a Normal Heart Rate or Resting Heart Rate?
There are three general ways to classify heart rate, 1) normal, 2) fast and 3) slow.
- A resting heart rate is normal between 60-100 beats per minute.
- A resting heart rate is fast (i.e. tachycardic) at greater than 100 beats per minute.
- A resting heart rate is slow (i.e. bradycardic) at less than 60 beats per minute. (Read our article Low Heart Rate)
A resting heart rate predicts longevity and cardiovascular disease, and current evidence suggests that it is also an important marker of outcome in cardiovascular disease, including heart failure. A normal heart rate is between 60-100 beats per minute at rest (sitting, relaxing, etc.). It is well-known that the average resting heart rate for well-trained athletes is 40-60 beats per minute! However, this rate can change dramatically while sleeping or with daily activity and exercise. Usually, a heart rate will be slower during sleep, faster during daily activities or with exercise, and recover quickly back to a resting rate after exercise. This means your heart has appropriate heart rate variability and recovery, which is associated with good heart health. Your resting heart rate can be used to estimate how much energy your body uses, or your basal metabolic rate.
What is a Normal Exercising Heart Rate?
To determine what a normal exercising heart rate is, you first need to determine your age-predicted maximal heart rate. Here is the generalized equation for predicting maximal heart rate (HRmax) in healthy adults:
HRmax = 208 – (0.7 x age)
For example, a 20-year-old person, the age-predicted maximal heart rate would be 194 beats per minute and for a 65-year-old person, the age-predicted maximal heart rate would be 163 beats per minute. A simplified age-predicted maximal heart rate equation (i.e. 220 – age) is commonly used, but it overestimates maximal heart rate in young adults and increasingly underestimates the maximal heart rate in older adults.
Being physically active is important to prevent cardiovascular disease, the #1 cause of death in the world. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends the following for physical activity:
- At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days per week for a total of 150 minutes OR at least 25 minutes of high-intensity aerobic activity at least three days per week for a total of 75 minutes. For example, a moderate-intensity walk should translate to 100 steps per minute or 3,000 steps in 30 minutes.
- Moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity at least two days per week for additional health benefits.
So, what defines “moderate-intensity” or “high-intensity” exercise with regards to heart rate? Once you have determined your maximal heart rate, then we can determine what your exercising heart rate should be based on the intensity of exercise.
- Generally, during exercise, you want your heart rate to be at 50-90% of your maximal heart rate. This range should be considered your general target heart rate during exercise.
- The target heart rate during moderate-intensity exercise is 50-70% of your maximal heart rate.
- The target heart rate during high-intensity exercise is 70-90% of your maximal heart rate.
- The target heart rate during a cardiac stress test to evaluate for cardiovascular disease is 85% of your maximal heart rate. This is supported by the AHA and the American College of Cardiology (ACC), as well as additional scientific studies defining the optimum upper heart rate limit during exercise.
Remember, exercise can include (but is not limited to) walking, jogging, running, swimming, biking, climbing stairs, high-intensity interval training (HIIT ), or playing sports – whatever activity you find the most interesting or enjoyable.
A resting heart rate is a very basic, but incredibly important predictor of cardiovascular disease and death in the general population. It is now recognized that positive modification of high-risk health profiles with strict diet and exercise programs can lower risk and is associated with improvement of resting heart rate, heart rate variability, and heart rate recovery. Take control of your health!