What your resting heart rate says about your health
Your resting heart rate, or RHR, is a routine number you likely see every time you visit the doctor’s office — whether for your yearly checkup, consultation, routine screening or even a simple blood draw. Also called basal heart rate, RHR is a measure of average heartbeats per minute while the body is at rest in a neutral environment. Normal RHR falls between 60 and 100 beats per minute. It’s great to know your heart is beating within the normal range – but what does a “normal” RHR mean for your overall health?
Dr. Dajun Wang, a cardiologist at Aurora Medical Center – Mount Pleasant, Wis., has listened to thousands of heartbeats over the years. He explains what the numbers mean when they fall inside or outside the norm.
Within the norm. “In general, a low RHR is a sign of a strong heart muscle that can pump enough blood to supply the body with oxygen without having to labor too hard,” says Dr. Wang. “The good news — and this is supported by multiple studies — is that an RHR within the norm is a reliable indicator of good health and longevity. It’s especially clear for those not taking heart medication such as a beta blocker,” he says.
According to Dr. Wang, a normal RHR tells you that you’re getting an adequate amount of daily physical activity.
Under the norm. An RHR under 60 can indicate that you’re more physically fit which may be associated with better heart function. For example, athletes often have RHRs lower than the norm.
Over the norm. If your RHR is higher than 100, however, you need to see your doctor to figure out why. In most studies, it simply means you aren’t doing enough physical activity. But it also could be caused by exposure to stress, excessive caffeine consumption or be a symptom of thyroid illness or a heart condition.
“That’s where a discussion with your doctor can help you figure out the cause of the high RHR, and what you can do about it,” says Dr. Wang. “If your high RHR is lifestyle-related, you should see a difference after just a couple of months of making changes, such as increasing exercise,” he says.
He recommends 20 minutes of cardio exercise five times per week for most people.
Many people now wear monitors that automatically track heart activity, but even without a monitor, tracking your RHR is easy. First, find a neutral quiet place. Place your index and third fingers on your neck to the side of your windpipe. To check your pulse at your wrist, place two fingers between the bone and the tendon over your radial artery, located on the thumb side of your wrist. When you feel your pulse, count the number of beats in 30 seconds; then multiply by two to get your RHR.
Want to learn more about your heart health? Take a free, quick online risk assessment of your heart disease risk by clicking here.
About the Author
Annette Guye-Kordus is a public affairs coordinator with Advocate Aurora Health.