What Is Resting Heart Rate?

Apple Watch Heart Rate
Apple Watch Heart Rate. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Your resting heart rate (RHR) is the number of times your heart beats per minute while at complete rest. Resting heart rate will decrease as your heart becomes stronger with aerobic exercise training. A low resting heart rate is an indicator of good fitness. Here are some facts:

  • The units are bpm (beats per minute).
  • Fit adults may have a resting heart rate below 60 and some elite endurance athletes have resting heart rates below 40.
  • A healthy resting heart rate for adults is 60-80 bpm.
  • An average adult resting heart rate range is 60-100 bpm but recent large studies and meta-analyses show health risks are increased at a higher range.
  • Resting heart rate may be affected by medications. Beta blockers may lower resting heart rate below 60.
  • An elevated resting heart rate can be an indicator of increased cardiovascular risk and all-cause mortality risk. Risk is most pronounced when the resting heart rate goes above 90 bpm.
  • A low resting heart rate in people who are not physically fit is called bradycardia. If you don't actively exercise and have a low RHR with symptoms of dizziness or shortness of breath, you should discuss this with your doctor.

How to Measure Your Resting Heart Rate

Your resting heart rate should be taken first thing in the morning, before getting out of bed. Take your pulse for 60 seconds. You need a device that counts seconds—use your mobile phone stopwatch or clock app or a clock or watch that has a second hand or displays seconds.

There are also apps such as Azumio Instant Heart Rate that use the flash on your mobile phone to take your pulse. Some fitness bands and smartwatches have LED heart rate sensors that measure your resting heart rate or your heart rate on demand.

What Your Resting Heart Rate Means

Vigorous aerobic exercise, such as running or cycling, has the most effect on lowering resting heart rate.

Moderate-intensity exercise such as brisk walking has less effect. RHR is lowered as the heart muscle becomes stronger and is able to pump out more blood per heartbeat. The body needs less heart beats to pump the same amount of blood. If your heart muscle is weak, it needs to beat more times to pump the same amount of blood.

Exercise Recovery and Overtraining

Athletes often monitor their RHR to determine when they are fully recovered from a hard workout or race. A high resting heart rate is also a sign of overtraining. Your resting heart rate may be elevated for one or more days after a vigorous endurance workout, such as running a 10K race or walking a half marathon. You might delay another hard workout until your resting heart rate has returned to its usual value.

Fitness monitors and apps that record resting heart rate daily may use that data to give you a notification as to when you are ready for another hard workout. If you aren't fully recovered, they may recommend a light intensity workout instead.

Source

Zhang D, Shen X, Qi X. "Resting heart rate and all-cause and cardiovascular mortality in the general population: a meta-analysis." CMAJ. 2015 Nov 23. pii: cmaj.150535. [Epub ahead of print]

All About Heart Rate (Pulse). American Heart Association. August 5, 2015. Accessed 1/20/16.

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