If you’ve ever checked your pulse by putting your fingers on your wrist, you may have wondered what your target is. You might also be curious to know the difference between pulse and heart rate, and what your target heart should be if you are exercising. Read on to learn more!
Pulse and heart rate
Your pulse is the same thing as your heart rate. Simply put, your pulse is the number of times your heart beats in one minute. A normal pulse, or heart rate, varies from person to person, but it’s important to know what your “normal” should be, since it is a good indicator of your health. Chances are that your doctor or a medical assistant checks your pulse when you go in for visit.
What should your resting heart rate be?
Your resting heart rate, which is when your heart is pumping the least amount of blood that you need because, well, you’re resting, usually ranges from 60 beats per minute (bpm) to 100 bpm, according to the American Heart Association. In other words, if you’re sitting or lying down, you’re relaxed, and you’re not sick, your heart rate ideally is 60 to 100 bpm.
Exceptions to this include people taking certain medicines, like beta blockers (which lower your heart rate), and athletes or people who exercise regularly (they tend to have lower resting heart rates).
How to measure your heart rate
You don’t have to wait for the medical assistant at your doctor’s office to check your heart rate. You can easily do this yourself. It’s best to check your resting heart rate right when you get out of bed in the morning (before you drink your coffee!) or if you’ve been resting for a while. Here’s how to measure your heart rate at your wrist:
- Lightly press your index (pointer) finger and middle finger together on your opposite wrist, just below the fatty section under your thumb. You should feel your pulse.
- Time 15 seconds with a clock or watch with a second hand and count the number of beats in those 15 seconds. Then, multiply by four. So, if you count 20 beats in 15 seconds, multiplied by four, your resting heart rate is 80.
You can also check your pulse on other areas of your body, such as your neck, temple, back of the knees, or top of the foot. However, the wrist is easy enough for most people to access.
What affects your heart rate?
A lot of factors can cause your heart rate to be too slow or too fast. Examples include:
- Certain medications (e.g., beta blockers, too high a dose of thyroid medicine)
- Level of physical activity
- Body position (standing up or lying down)
- Air temperature
What do “abnormal” results mean?
If your resting heart rate is continually high, this is called tachycardia, which is when your heart rate is over 100 bpm. You may have symptoms, such as feeling lightheaded, shortness of breath, or palpitations, or you might not have any. If your resting heart rate is continually low, this is called bradycardia, and is when your heart rate is under 60 bpm. Again, the exception is that your heart rate may go below 60 bpm when you’re sleeping; also, athletes may have a resting heart rate under 60 bpm.
If you’re concerned about your heart rate being too high or too low and if you have symptoms, let your doctor know.
What is target heart rate?
Target heart rate is when your heart is working its hardest to provide oxygen to the body. To determine this, you need to figure out your maximum heart rate. Do this by subtracting your age from 220.
Knowing your target heart rate is a way to help you gauge if you’re working too hard or not hard enough while exercising. Target heart rate is determined by age. For moderate intensity activity, the target heart rate goal is about 50%-70% of maximum heart rate; for vigorous intensity activity, it’s about 70%-85%. If you don’t want to do all that math, use the table, below, from the American Heart Association.
Check with your doctor or a qualified exercise specialist if you have medical conditions (including diabetes) or aren’t sure what level of intensity is right for you. In general, though, aim for the lower end of your target heart rate if you’re just starting out with exercise.
|HEART RATE CHART|
|Age (years)||Target HR Zone 50%-85%||Average Max Heart Rate, 100%|
|20||100-170 bpm||200 bpm|
|30||95-162 bpm||190 bpm|
|35||93-157 bpm||185 bpm|
|40||90-153 bpm||180 bpm|
|45||88-149 bpm||175 bpm|
|50||85-145 bpm||170 bpm|
|55||83-140 bpm||165 bpm|
|60||80-136 bpm||160 bpm|
|65||78-132 bpm||155 bpm|
|70||75-128 bpm||150 bpm|
Source: American Heart Association
Want to learn more about protecting your heart? Read “Be Heart Smart: Know Your Numbers,” “Does Diabetes Hurt Your Heart?” “Fight Off Heart Disease With These Five Heart-Healthy Foods” and “Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease.”