How To: Assess Your Heart Rate

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The human heart is a fist-sized organ that relentlessly beats to provide a continuous circulation of oxygen-rich blood throughout your body. Resting heart rate refers to the number of times your heart contracts each minute and it is a good predictor of health.  A clinical study found that men and women who have a high resting heart rate have a higher risk of death from ischemic heart disease. Thus, knowing if you have a healthy heart rate can be (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20056969).

How to Finding Your Resting Heart Rate

STEP 1. Sit down and remain calm for a few minutes. Your heart rate fluctuates based on your activity. Even standing can elevate your heart rate. Before you measure your resting heart rate, you need to allow yourself to “relax.”

    • A good way to find out your resting heart rate is to measure it immediately after waking up in the morning.
    • Do not measure your heart rate immediately after exercise. Your heart rate can remain elevated and you won’t be able to get your resting heart rate. Also, being stressed, anxious or upset can elevate your rate.

STEP 2. Use your fingers to find your pulse. Use the pads of your first three fingers to press down on (or palpate) the radial pulse on the inside of your wrist or on the side of your neck (http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/heart/prevention/exercise/pulse-target-heart-rate).

    • Do not use your thump.

STEP 3. Push your fingers against the artery until you feel a strong pulsation. It might take you a moment to feel the pulsation. 

    • Do not push too hard or you may not feel the pulsation.

STEP 4. Count each beat or pulsation to find your rate per minute. If the rhythm is regular, count the number of beats in 30 seconds and multiply by 2. The 30-second interval is the most accurate and efficient when heart rates are normal or rapid and when rhythms are regular.

    • If the rhythm is irregular, count for a full minute. As you begin counting, start the first pulse felt as zero and the second pulse as one. Assess the pulse for rate, rhythm, force, and elasticity (this will be covered in the next section).

STEP 5. Repeat the measure. Two or more measures will give you a more accurate reading.

    • Get an average of the measures to get your heart rate.

How to Assess Whether Your Heart Rate Is Healthy

STEP 1. Assess if your resting heart rate is within the normal range. The normal resting heart rate for an adult is between 60 and 100 beats per minute (and for a child 70-100 beats per minute). However, a recent study indicated that a heart rate above 80 is a risk factor for obesity and diabetes (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19151693).

    • If your resting heart rate is between 60 and 80 beats per minute, it is likely to be categorized as healthy or normal.

STEP 2. Assess if your heart rate is higher than 80 beats per minute. If it is, you might have a higher risk of cardiac disease and you should consult your doctor immediately.

    • A high resting heart rate means your heart needs to work harder to maintain a steady beat at rest. A high resting heart rate is considered a risk factor for ischemic cardiac disease, obesity and diabetes (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20056969</ref><ref>http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19151693).
    • A 10-year clinical study found that adults whose resting heart rate increased from 70 to 85 beats per minute were 90% more likely to have died during the study than those whose rate remained below 70 (http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/increase-in-resting-heart-rate-is-a-signal-worth-watching-201112214013).
    • If your resting heart rate is high, take actions to lower it (see next section).
    • Some medications (such as thyroid medication and stimulants) can raise your heart rate. Discuss with your doctor if you are concerned that the medications you are currently taking have increased your heart rate.
    • Environmental temperature and humidity can also temporarily increase your heart rate because your heart needs to work a little harder in these conditions. This does not mean your heart rate is high in normal conditions.

STEP 3. Assess if your resting heart rate is lower than 60. Having your rate be below 60 beats per minute doesn’t usually mean you have a medical problem. People who are very athletic can have a resting heart rate as low as 40 beats per minute (http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/MyHeartandStrokeNews/All-About-Heart-Rate-Pulse_UCM_438850_Article.jsp).

  • Some people have low heart rate by nature and there is nothing abnormal or unhealthy about this.
  • Some medications (such as beta-blockers) can slow down your heart rate.
  • Consult your doctor and ask if you need to take action due to low resting heart rate.