Your heart rate provides a window into your cardiovascular fitness.
Do you know your resting heart rate (RHR)? If you don’t, you should. This number, a tally of how many times your heart beats per minute, is a leading indicator of your cardiovascular health.
RHR measures your pulse while you’re at rest. During the day, your heart rate adapts to your changing physical activity levels. While you exercise, for instance, your heart fuels your body with more oxygen. When you’re sitting still, you need less oxygen and your heart rate slows.
Your RHR provides a rough picture of your heart health. If your RHR is higher than average, you may be a risk for serious heart problems. Of course, a RHR reading is influenced by many individual factors, ranging from age and physical fitness to medications and stress level. Your doctor can tell you what your ideal RHR is, but you should also regularly check your RHR and take steps to improve it if it falls outside the recommended guidelines.
How to Take Your Pulse
You don’t have to wait for a doctor’s appointment to check your pulse. Simply place your index and third fingers on your wrist, the side of your neck, top of your foot, or the inside of your elbow. Once you feel a pulse, count how many beats occur in a 15-second period. That number multiplied by four gives you your RHR. A good time to take your pulse is when you’re relaxed or at the beginning of the day, just before you get out of bed.
In general, a RHR ranging from 60 to 100 beats per minute is considered normal for adults, though you should strive for a number below 90 to keep your heart at its healthiest.
However, that range varies by age. For example, a 40-year-old’s optimal range is 90 to 153, but between 75 and 128 is ideal for a 70-year-old. A higher-than-normal RHR signals that your heart is working overtime, which could lead to serious cardiovascular disorders.
A 2013 study tracked the RHR of more than 2,700 healthy, middle-aged and elderly white men for 16 years. It concluded that an elevated RHR is associated with poor physical fitness, higher blood pressure, and increased fats in the blood system. A high RHR also increased a person’s risk of premature death.
Meanwhile, a lower-than-normal RHR doesn’t necessarily suggest a serious medical condition. People who are exceptionally physically active may have a RHR between 40 and 60, because their unusually strong heart muscle doesn’t need to pump as often. But bouts of dizziness, fainting, and fatigue could be the fault of a dangerously low heart rate and should be checked by a doctor. Some medications, such as beta blockers, can lower your heart rate.
How to Get Heart Healthy
In addition to your RHR, you should monitor your maximum heart rate. When we exercise, the heart speeds up to supply oxygen to the body. The number of beats at that time is our maximum heart rate. The average maximum heart rate for a 40-year-old is 180. That rate drops to 150 for someone aged 70.
Maximum heart rate is linked to our aerobic capacity, or the amount of oxygen we’re able to absorb. Exercise raises your aerobic capacity level as well as your RHR, thereby reducing your risk of heart attack. Before starting an exercise program, always consult with your physician. Start by aiming for 50 percent of your recommended maximum heart rate while you work out, gradually increasing it to 70 percent to 80 percent as you progress. Be aware that high-intensity workouts lower RHR more effectively than lower-intensity training.
Diet also affects our heart rate. A diet high in bad cholesterol leaves fatty deposits in the arteries and blood vessels, which forces the heart to work harder to circulate blood. To keep your heart healthy, eat a diet low in saturated and trans fats and sodium, and instead pick foods high in protein such as fish and lean meat. Nuts, whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables are also good choices to improve heart health.
Let’s Talk About Your Heart
At Tri-City Cardiology, our specialists will review your cardiovascular fitness and recommend ways to improve your cardiac strength. We can determine how to best treat and manage your heart so you’ll enjoy many years of good health. Contact our office today for an appointment.