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What Does Your Heart Rate Tell You?

Heart rate and blood pressure are important indicators of the overall health of your cardiovascular system. High blood pressure, or hypertension, increases stress on your blood vessels and raises the risk of stroke and heart disease. Similarly, changes in heart rate and regularity can indicate a heart problem.

Heart rate, or pulse, is the number of times your heart beats in a minute. A faster heart rate is linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular death and all-cause mortality.1 Track your resting heart rate as an early indicator for heart disease.  

Your doctor can track your heart rate and blood pressure. You can also take both of these measurements yourself at home, and if they fall outside of healthy levels, schedule an appointment with a doctor on the TelegraMD platform to discuss your cardiovascular health.

What Is a Normal Heart Rate?

Average resting and maximum heart rates vary by age. In adults, a resting heart rate between 60 to 100 beats per minute is considered normal. Babies and children have higher resting heart rates.

According to the American Heart Association, these are the average target and maximum heart rates based on age. These numbers should be used to ensure your exercise produces maximal benefits for your cardiovascular system.

 Age (years)Target Heart Rate Zone (50-85%)Maximum Heart Rate (100%) 
20100-170  beats per minute (bpm)200 bpm
3095-162 bpm190 bpm
3593-157 bpm185 bpm
4090-153 bpm180 bpm
4588-149 bpm175 bpm
5085-145 bpm170 bpm
5583-140 bpm165 bpm
6080-136 bpm160 bpm
6578-132 bpm155 bpm
7075-128 bpm150 bpm

What Is a Good Resting Heart Rate?

Resting heart rates vary by person. Tracking your resting heart rate can give you the data you need to understand how well your heart functions. While 60 to 100 beats per minute is the reference range for resting heart rate, aim for a lower heart rate for better health.

The cells that make up the tissues and organs in your body need oxygen and nutrients to function. During exercise or times of high metabolic demand, the need increases. Your heart can respond to increased demand by beating faster or stronger. Either option will increase the amount of blood pumped from the heart into circulation.

One of the health effects of a sedentary lifestyle is lower cardiovascular fitness. If you exercise and increase the demand on your heart and lungs, your heart and respiratory muscles will strengthen, and your heart will be able to pump more blood with each beat. A well-trained athlete can have a resting heart rate between 40 and 60 beats per minute. Because an athlete’s heart can eject more blood per beat, they will have a lower resting heart rate than someone who does not exercise.

If you have medical problems or concerns about your heart, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.

A person taking thir pulse.

How To Find Your Resting Heart Rate

Determine your resting heart rate when you are calm and relaxed. Exercise, caffeine, smoking, dehydration, anxiety, some medications, and eating a large meal can all affect your heart rate.

One of the easiest ways to check your heart rate is to use one of the many wearable devices available that can improve overall health and quality of life. Fitness trackers and smart health watches can track your heart rate throughout the day.

You can also easily take your pulse to find your resting heart rate. Follow these steps:

  • Find a superficial artery. You can measure your pulse at your wrist, the front of your neck, or the inside of your elbow. The wrist is typically the easiest. Your pulse can be found just below the crease of your wrist, below your thumb.
  • Use your fingers to take your pulse, not your thumb. Don’t press too hard, or you may compress the blood vessel.
  • Before measuring your resting heart rate, feel your pulse for a few seconds. Does it feel regular?
  • When you are ready, start counting the pulsations while watching a clock.
  • Count for 15 minutes and multiply by 4, 30 minutes and multiply by 2, or count for a full minute.  

If you have trouble taking your pulse, ask your healthcare provider to demonstrate the procedure at your next medical visit.

A person using an exercise tracker.

What Is a Dangerous Heart Rate?

When your heart beats too fast, it is unable to eject enough blood from each contraction. Arrhythmias are abnormalities in electrical conduction through the heart. They can cause a dangerously high heart rate or an abnormally low one. These abnormal heart rhythms can range from asymptomatic to dangerous.  

Damage to heart muscle from a heart attack limits its ability to contract effectively. A fast heart rate can be an early sign of heart disease or indicate a serious heart condition.

Seek medical care promptly if you have a fast heartbeat and symptoms such as:

  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Chest discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Nausea

A dangerously high or low heart rate that produces symptoms indicates that your brain and body are not getting an optimal blood supply. Seek medical attention promptly.

What Does a High Heart Rate Mean?

A higher resting heart rate is directly linked to long-term survival rates for the general population and people with cardiovascular disease. People with a lower resting heart rate are expected to live longer than people who do not. A high resting heart rate is also associated with other cardiovascular risk factors, such as impaired glucose metabolism, diabetes, and obesity.2 Exercise and medications can lower resting heart rate.

A high heart rate (tachycardia, heart rate over 100 beats per minute) can be normal if it is in response to increased demands on the cardiovascular system. Causes of higher heart rates include:

  • Stress: Stress affects heart health because it adds demand. When you are stressed, hormones and adrenaline are released to increase your heart rate and blood pressure. Your body prepares to meet the perceived threat.
  • Exercise: Increased physical activity demands increased oxygen and nutrient delivery to muscles and other body tissues.
  • Medications: Some medications, such as antihistamines and asthma medications, can increase heart rate.
  • Stimulants: Caffeine, cocaine, amphetamine, and other stimulants can increase heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Pregnancy: Increased demand for blood flow into the placenta can increase heart rate.
  • Fever: Illness and fever cause an increased metabolic demand and faster heart rate.
  • Arrhythmia: An arrhythmia is a faster heart rate that occurs due to an abnormality in how electrical signals are sent through the heart.
  • Congenital heart disease: Some milder forms of congenital heart disease are not identified until later in life.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption: Alcohol can cause dehydration, which decreases blood volume and can increase heart rate.

If your resting heart rate is higher than expected. Contact a doctor on call at TelegraMD to discuss your cardiovascular health and develop an individualized treatment plan.

What Does a Low Heart Rate Mean?

A lower heart rate typically means that your heart is functioning more efficiently and indicates better cardiovascular health.

Having a low heart rate (less than 60 beats per minute) along with any of the following symptoms may indicate that the heart is unable to optimally supply the brain and body with blood flow:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness

Along with abnormalities in conducting the electrical impulse throughout the heart or damage to the heart tissue, examples of other causes of low heart rate include hypothyroidism, electrolyte imbalances, inflammatory or rheumatoid disorders, and congenital heart disease.

A person exercising and checking their heart rate.

How To Lower Your Heart Rate

Many people can lower their resting heart rate by improving their cardiovascular fitness. Heart-healthy exercise increases the demand on the heart. Over time, your heart and respiratory muscles will strengthen and optimize their function. Choose an exercise you enjoy and can commit to doing regularly.

In addition to exercise, healthy lifestyle modifications that can reduce demand on the heart include:

  • Quitting smoking: Smoking has a significant impact on heart health. Smoking cessation programs can ease your transition to a nicotine-free life.
  • Get plenty of restful sleep: This reduces stress on the body and gives your brain and body time to repair and restore itself.
  • Moderate alcohol use: Excessive alcohol consumption can increase heart rate and metabolic demand.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Carrying excess pounds puts stress on the heart and makes exercise more difficult.
  • Consider supplements: Heart health supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, fiber, folate, coenzyme Q10, and vitamin E can improve heart health.
  • Choose a healthy diet: Heart-healthy diets like the Mediterranean diet are rich in nutrients and antioxidants.
  • Manage stress: Yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises are popular ways to manage stress.
  • Stimulants: Reduce caffeine intake to reduce metabolic demand on the heart.

If you need suggestions to improve your heart health, contact a healthcare provider on the TelegraMD platform to receive an online diagnosis and a personalized treatment plan. Your online doctor will review your medical history and lab results and suggest ways to improve your overall cardiovascular health.

When To See a Doctor About Your Heart Rate

See a doctor if you have any concerns about your heart, especially if you have symptoms such as dizziness, chest pain or pressure, weakness, or shortness of breath.

If you have cardiovascular risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, or diabetes, make an appointment with an online doctor to discuss ways to improve your health.

If you have symptoms that suggest a life-threatening arrhythmia or impending heart muscle damage, seek medical attention promptly.

Having an abnormally high resting heart rate that persists without treatment can weaken the heart over time and increase your risk of heart failure.

Disclaimer

While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.

References

1. Perret-Guillaume C, Joly L, Benetos A. Heart rate as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2009 Jul-Aug;52(1):6-10. doi: 10.1016/j.pcad.2009.05.003. PMID: 19615487.

2. Böhm M, Reil JC, Deedwania P, Kim JB, Borer JS. Resting heart rate: risk indicator and emerging risk factor in cardiovascular disease. Am J Med. 2015 Mar;128(3):219-28. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2014.09.016. Epub 2014 Oct 15. PMID: 25447617.

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