Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on July 21, 2020
What Is Your Heart Rate?
Your heart rate, or pulse, is the number of times your heart beats in a minute. Everyone’s is different, and it changes as you get older. Understanding your heart rate and what’s a healthy one for you is an important part of taking care of yourself.
Your Resting Heart Rate
This is the number of times your heart beats in a minute when you’re not active and your heart isn’t having to work hard to pump blood through your body. Some medications like beta-blockers can slow your heartbeat and lower your resting heart rate.
A Healthy Resting Heart Rate
Most healthy adults should have a resting heart rate between 60 and 100 beats a minute. In general, the more physically fit you are, the lower your heart rate will be. Athletes can have a normal resting heart rate in the 40s. A healthy one is a sign that your heart isn’t having to work too hard to circulate blood.
How to Check It
You can feel your heart rate by putting your first two fingers on the inside of your wrist, the inside of your elbow, the side of your neck, or on the top of your foot. Once you find it, count how many beats you feel in 15 seconds, and multiply that number by 4.
How to Lower It
This can be as easy as simply relaxing -- sit down, have a glass of water, or just take a few deep breaths. A healthier lifestyle, including getting at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, eating healthier, watching your weight, and cutting down alcohol, caffeine, and smoking can help, too. If that’s not enough, you might try to find ways to better handle stress, like tai chi, meditation, or mindfulness.
Arrhythmia: A Problem With Your Heart Rate
When your heart’s beating rhythm is off, that's called an arrhythmia. There are four major types:
• Tachycardia: When your heart beats too fast, usually more than 100 beats a minute
• Bradycardia: When your heart beats too slowly, below 60 beats a minute (unless you’re an athlete)
• Supraventricular arrhythmia: An arrhythmia that starts in your heart’s upper chambers
• Ventricular arrhythmia: An arrhythmia that starts in your heart’s lower chambers
Causes of Arrythmia
Several things can lead to arrythmia. These include clogged or hardened arteries, high blood pressure, or issues with your heart’s valves. It also can be the result of trauma from a heart attack. It can happen as you recover from heart surgery, and if your electrolytes are out of balance. For example, if your body has too much or too little potassium.
Elevated Heart Rate (Tachycardia)
A resting heart rate higher than 100 beats per minute happens most often in kids. It's also more common in women. The primary causes of a fast heart rate include stress, smoking, or drinking too much alcohol, coffee, or other caffeinated drinks.
Low Heart Rate (Bradycardia)
A heart rate lower than 60 beats per minute can be caused by an infection, a problem with your thyroid gland (hypothyroidism), a chemical imbalance in your blood, breathing problems while you sleep (obstructive sleep apnea), or inflammatory diseases like lupus. It also can be caused by a problem with how your heart developed before you were born.
Heart Rate and Exercise
When you work out, you want your heart rate to go up, but not too much. To find the right number, start by figuring out your maximum rate: Subtract your age from 220. If you’re just starting a fitness regimen, your target should be about 50% of your maximum heart rate. If you already exercise regularly, it might be closer to 85%. Some devices and machines, like a treadmill, keep track of your heart rate.
Outside conditions, like warm weather or humidity, can make your heart pump a little more blood. Extreme emotional highs and lows or feeling anxious can raise your heart rate, too. Standing up from a sitting position can also bring it up for a few seconds.
When to See Your Doctor
Call your doctor if you’re taking a medication that causes you to have fainting spells or dizziness. Also reach out if you notice that you often have a fast heartbeat or a low pulse. Depending on what’s going on with you, your doctor might change your medications, recommend a pacemaker to get your heart beating in the right rhythm, or suggest other things to prevent or manage your condition.