You probably were told your resting heart rate at your last checkup. Or maybe you get alerts throughout the day thanks to a fitness tracker or smart watch.
But what does the number really mean? And how do you know if your heart rate is normal?
What is a resting heart rate?
In simple terms, it’s the number of times your heart beats per minute when you’re at rest.
“Your heart rate is a good indicator of your overall health,” explains Kevin Ly, MD, a family medicine doctor at Geisinger’s Elysburg Clinic. “Generally, a lower number means you’re in better physical shape because your heart isn’t having to work as hard to pump blood.”
Having a baseline of what yours usually is can help you and your doctor monitor your health over time.
How to measure heart rate
There are two main ways to check your pulse: manually and with a wearable device. With either method, be sure to wait at least 10 minutes after any exercise or stressful situation.
To check your resting heart rate manually:
- Gently place your index and middle fingers on the inside of your wrist just below your thumb. You should feel your pulse.
- Set a stopwatch or timer for 15 seconds and count the number of pulses you feel during that time. (It can be easier if a friend manages the timer for you.)
- Multiply that number by four to get your resting heart rate.
- Repeat these steps a few times and take the average to get the most accurate results.
“The morning is usually a good time to check,” suggests Dr. Ly. “Just make sure it’s before you’ve had your coffee or done any physical activity.”
You can also try are wearable monitors or fitness trackers, which can automatically track changes over time. These devices usually strap around your chest, arm or wrist and can be worn during exercise or as you go about your daily life.
Average resting heart rates
What’s considered a normal heart rate can vary from person to person, but the average for adults is 60 – 80 beats per minute (bpm). If your results are consistently below 60 bpm, it’s considered bradycardia; above 100 bpm, it’s referred to as tachycardia.
Keep in mind, the average changes based on age. “What’s normal for a 4-year-old is going to be completely different than what’s normal for a 75-year-old,” explains Dr. Ly.
The following ranges are considered normal for each age group:
Newborns 0 – 1 month old: 70 to 190 bpm
Infants 1 – 11 months old: 80 to 160 bpm
Children 1 – 2 years old: 80 to 130 bpm
Children 3 – 4 years old: 80 to 120 bpm
Children 5 – 6 years old: 75 to 115 bpm
Children 7 – 9 years old: 70 to 110 bpm
Children 10 years and older and adults (including seniors): 60 to 100 bpm
Well-trained athletes: 40 to 60 bpm
If your result is outside these ranges, it doesn’t necessarily mean that something is wrong, but it’s always best to check with your doctor to be sure.
What else can affect your result?
Along with age, a variety of factors can influence how fast or slow your heart is beating, including:
Fitness level: If you’re fit and healthy, your heart will be more efficient at pumping blood around the body and will beat more slowly.
Stress: Stress affects nearly every system in your body, and it can make your heart beat faster.
Medications: Beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers can lower your heart rate while asthma medications, antibiotics, cold medicines and antidepressants can raise it.
How to lower your heart rate
Because a lower resting heart rate is generally a sign of a healthy heart, it’s a good idea to monitor yours and take steps to reduce it if it’s high. According to Dr. Ly, this can be done with the following easy lifestyle changes.
Exercising is a great way to strengthen your heart muscle and improve its efficiency. Not much for jogging or hitting the gym? There are plenty of easy, creative exercises you can try at home.
In case you needed another reason to quit, smoking nicotine makes your heart work harder and raises your risk of cardiovascular disease. Rather than quitting cold turkey, work with your doctor to come up with a plan that you can stick with.
Staying hydrated is important for your overall health, but it can also help lower your heart rate by keeping your blood volume up. When you’re dehydrated, your blood becomes thicker and harder for your heart to pump through your body. Stay hydrated by carrying a reusable water bottle or eating water-rich foods like cucumbers, watermelon or leafy greens.
Watch how much caffeine and alcohol you drink
Alcohol can make dehydration worse, and caffeine is a stimulant that causes your heart to speed up. Know how much alcohol is in your drink and consider swapping espresso for low-caffeine tea.
Reducing stress is good for all areas of your health, including your heart. Some relaxation techniques to try are deep breathing exercises, meditation and yoga.
Eat a heart-healthy diet
What you eat can play a big part in how healthy your heart is. A good tip is to shop the perimeter of the grocery store (focusing on fresh produce, lean meats and whole grains) rather than the middle aisles filled with processed foods.
When to see a doctor
Your resting heart rate can change throughout the day based on a variety of factors, and no one number is considered “normal.” That’s why it’s important to work with your doctor to determine what’s right for your body and what warrants a visit.
“If you’re consistently under 60 bpm or over 100 bpm, it’s a good idea to check in with your primary care provider,” says Dr. Ly. “This is especially true if you notice any chest pain, shortness of breath, fainting or dizziness.”