Heart rate, also commonly known as pulse rate, is the number of times your heart beats per minute. A normal heart rate depends on the individual, with age, body size, fitness level, heart conditions, whether you’re sitting or standing, medication and even air temperature. Emotions can also have an impact on heart rate, as heart rate goes up when danger is detected or other stress factors are experienced.
How to measure heart rate
There are several areas of the body where your heart rate can be measured — wrists, side of the neck, groin and top of the foot. For an accurate reading, put a finger over one of these areas and count the number of beats in 60 seconds. You can also do this for 15 seconds and multiply by four, or for 10 seconds and multiply by 6, but most experts recommend counting pulse for the full 60 seconds if possible.
Experts suggest that you should sit quietly for at least 10 minutes before taking your resting heart rate.
Resting heart rate
For adults 18 and older, a normal resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute (bpm), depending on the person’s physical condition. For children ages 6 to 15, the normal resting heart rate is between 70 and 100 bpm.
Athletes and those in excellent physical condition can have resting heat rate of 40 bpm.
Maximum heart rate
While there is no definitive medical advice on when a resting heart rate is too high, most medical experts agree that a consistent heart rate in the upper levels can put too much stress on the heart and other organs.
The two most common maximum heart rate calculations are:
- 220 - Age. For a 50-year-old person, for example: 220 - 50 = 170.
- 206.9 - (0.67 x Age). For a 50-year-old: 0.67 x 50 = 33.5, and 206.9 - 33.5 = 173.4.
The second is slightly more precise that the first, but the first is easier and more convenient for most people to remember.
Target heart rate
You gain the most benefits and lessen the risks of cardiac disease when you exercise in your target heart rate zone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for moderate-intensity physical activity, a person's target heart rate should be 50 percent to 70 percent of his or her maximum heart rate. For example, using the results calculated above for a 50-year-old person, 50 percent and 70 percent levels would be:
- 50 percent level: 170 x 0.50 = 85 bpm
- 70 percent level: 170 x 0.70 = 119 bpm
For intense exercise, a 50-year-old person's target heart rate should be 70 percent to 85 percent of his or her maximum heart rate:
- 70 percent level: 170 x 0.70 = 119 bpm
- 85 percent level: 170 x 0.85 = 144 bpm
It is not recommended to exercise above 85 percent of your maximum heart rate, as this doesn’t typically provide any further benefits and increases cardiovascular and orthopedic risks. [Related: The Best Heart Rate Monitor Watches for Exercise]
Lowering a rapid heart rate
Regular exercise is the tried-and-true method to lowering your resting pulse rate, as people in good physical condition generally have lower pulse rates. Even people who are fit can experience spikes in their pulse, which can cause a feeling of faintness.
Pulse rates can spike do to nervousness, stress, dehydration and over exertion. Sitting down and taking slow, deep breaths can generally lower your heart rate.
Arrhythmia, tachycardia and other conditions
A number of conditions can impact your heart rate. An arrhythmia causes the heart to beat too fast, too slow or with an irregular rhythm.
Tachycardia is generally considered to be a resting heart rate of over 100 beats per minute and generally caused when electrical signals in the heart's upper chambers fire abnormally. If the heart rate is closer to 150 bpm or higher, it is a condition known as supraventricular tachycardia (SVT). In SVT, your heart’s electrical system, which controls the heart rate, is out of whack. This generally requires medical attention.
Bradycardia is a condition where the heart rate is too low, typically less than 60 bpm. This can be the result of problems with the sinoatrial node, which acts as the pacemaker, or damage to the heart as a result of a heart attack or cardiovascular disease.
High blood pressure vs. high heart rate
Some people confuse high blood pressure with a high heart rate. Blood pressure is the measurement of the force of the blood against the walls of arteries, while pulse rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute.
There is no direct correlation between the two, and high blood pressure does not necessarily result in a high pulse rate, and vice versa. Heart rate goes up during strenuous activity, but a vigorous workout may only modestly increase blood pressure.