The better you understand your heart rate, the more you can maximize your movement to give your heart a good workout.
What is your heart rate?
Your heart rate, or pulse, is the number of times your heart beats per minute. Your resting heart rate is the heart pumping the lowest amount of blood you need because you're not exercising. If you are sitting or lying down ― and you're calm, relaxed and aren't ill ― your heart rate is normally between 60 and 100 beats per minute.
Other factors can affect your heart rate include:
- Air temperature
When temperatures or humidity increases, the heart pumps more blood so you pulse or heart rate may increase.
- Body position
Sometimes when going from a sitting to a standing position, your pulse may go up a little. After a few minutes, it should return to a normal rate.
If you are stressed, anxious or feeling incredibly happy, your emotions can raise your heart rate.
- Body size
Body size normally does not increase your heart rate. However, if you are obese, you may see a higher resting heart rate.
- Medication use
Medications that block adrenaline tend to slow your heart rate. Thyroid medication may raise it.
Why your heart rate matters
Cardiovascular exercise, also called cardio or aerobic exercise, keeps you and your heart healthy. This specific type of exercise gets your heart rate up and heart beating faster for several minutes at a time. Cardiovascular exercise helps strengthen your heart, allowing it to pump blood more efficiently, which improves blood flow to all parts of your body. It also boosts your high-density lipoprotein, or HDL or "good," cholesterol, and lowers your low-density lipoprotein, or LDL or "bad," cholesterol. This may result in less buildup of plaque in your arteries.
What's considered normal?
Your target heart rate is the minimum heart rate in a given amount of time to reach the level of energy necessary to give your heart a good workout. To find your target heart rate to maximize your cardiovascular exercise, the first step is determining your maximum heart rate.
Your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. Your target heart rate for moderate exercise is about 50%–85% of your maximum heart rate.
As a general guide, average beats per minute by age are:
- 20 —
- 30 — 95–162
- 35 — 93–157
- 40 — 90–153
- 45 — 88–149
- 50 — 85–145
- 55 — 83–140
- 60 — 80–136
- 65 — 78–132
- 70 — 75–128
Things you can do to hit your target heart rate include:
- Start slow.
If you are just beginning an exercise program, aim for the lower end of your target heart rate zone. Then gradually build up intensity.
- Try interval training.
Interval training, which includes short bursts ― 15–60 seconds ― of higher-intensity exercise, alternated with longer, less strenuous exercise effectively increases cardiovascular fitness, and it is safe for those with existing heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
- Take the "talk test."
If you can carry on a conversation in brief sentences while exercising, you're probably in the moderate intensity range. You'll be breathing faster, developing a light sweat and feeling some strain in your muscles. If you're working at a vigorous intensity, you won't be able to say more than a few words without catching your breath. If you can sing while working out, you're probably in the low-intensity range, so step it up.
Learn more about how to hit your target heart rate.
Know your numbers
Many wearable activity trackers can monitor your heart rate when you exercise and periodically throughout the day. If you do not have an activity tracker, you can use the radial artery in your wrist or in the carotid artery in your neck. If you have heart disease or long-standing diabetes, it's best to use the artery on your wrist.
To find your heart rate manually:
- Locate the artery that you are going to use to find your heart rate.
- Use the tips of your first two fingers and press lightly over the artery.
- Count your heartbeats for 30 seconds and multiply by two to find your total beats per minute.
If your heart rate is too high, take it easier. If it is too low, add some intensity and push yourself to get your heart rate closer to your target. If you are just beginning to exercise, aim for the lower range in your target zone and gradually build up over time.
Learn more about how to take your pulse.
Abnormal heart rate
If you experience irregular heartbeats, including a racing heartbeat, slow heartbeat or a feeling of fluttering in your chest, you may be experiencing a heart arrhythmia. Heart rhythm or heartbeat problems can occur when the electrical impulses that coordinate your heartbeats don't work properly, causing your heart to beat too fast, too slow or irregularly.
If you believe you are experiencing heart rhythm problems, contact your nearest heart care expert.
By Mayo Clinic Health System staff