Millions of adults buy fitness trackers to measure the steps they walk and the calories they consume. Meanwhile, they may ignore an important benchmark that’s available for free and practically at our fingertips.
That’s your heart rate, specifically, knowing how many times your heart beats per minute and the variance between beats. Those numbers can help you to evaluate your current fitness level and manage many medical conditions.
They can also motivate you to make changes, so you stay healthy as you age. Learn more about your heart rate and what it means for your present and future wellbeing.
Understanding your Heart Rate
1. Focus on trends. Individual heart rates vary widely and often change day to day. Focus on long term patterns, so you can spot any significant changes over time. While you may have heard that the average range is about 60 to 100 beats, many studies suggest that avoiding the upper range could help you live longer.
2. Take your pulse. One of the easiest ways to measure your heart rate is to place your index and middle finger under your thumb. Once you find the throbbing spot, count the beats for 30 seconds and multiply by two.
3. Break it down. In general, you want to lower your resting heart rate and increase your maximum heart rate. Find your resting rate by taking your pulse before you get out of bed in the morning. Your maximum rate is the most your heart can pump, which is around 220 minus your age.
4. Increase your HRV. The time between each heartbeat fluctuates, depending on factors like physical exertion and emotion. A high level of heart rate variability (HRV) indicates a strong and resilient heart that recovers from stress quickly.
5. Monitor blood pressure. While high blood pressure is often associated with a high resting heart rate, they are two different things. Blood pressure refers to how much force your blood exerts against the walls of your blood vessels.
6. Consult your doctor. Your doctor can help you understand how your heart rate and other factors affect your individual health. For example, you may be prescribed drugs called beta blockers that target stress hormones in order to lower both your heart rate and blood pressure.
Developing Heart-Healthy Habits
1. Exercise regularly. Moderate aerobic exercise for at least two and a half hours each week will do wonders for your heart. Training makes your heart pump more efficiently.
2. Eat well. A diet rich in whole foods like vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats can reduce your risk of heart disease. Go easy on saturated fats and processed meat.
3. Rest and relax. Stress makes your heart work harder. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. Take breaks and live mindfully. Meditate daily or develop other relaxation practices.
4. Stay hydrated. Drinking water enhances your circulation. Carry a bottle with you to sip throughout the day.
5. Quit smoking. Using tobacco raises your heart rate and blood pressure. Ask your doctor about cessation methods that suit your lifestyle. Avoid secondhand smoke too.
6. Limit alcohol. Heavy drinking weakens your heart muscle. Schedule some non-drinking days each week and avoid binge drinking.
7. Lose weight. Being overweight or obese increases your heart rate and puts you at higher risk for many serious medical conditions, including heart complications and stroke. Gradual weight loss is easier to maintain, so 1 to 2 pounds each week is a safe goal for many adults.
Your heart works hard for you, beating about 100,000 times each day. Return the love by keeping it in top shape with a healthy lifestyle and appropriate medical care for your individual needs.