This post was written by Megan A. Zink, ACSM-EP, BS, exercise specialist, Cardiac Rehab, Parkview Hospital Randallia.
Heart rate (HR), simply put, is your heartbeat. It’s your own personal rhythm, unique to you. HR is important because the function of your heart is vital to your life. Cardiac output (the function of the heart) is directly related to the HR and the amount of blood pumped with each beat. Unless there’s a problem, most of us aren’t aware of our HR moment-to-moment. But it’s important to be familiar with your heart’s rhythm and have some general knowledge of how to get it into an optimal range.
According to the American Heart Association, most adults range from 60 to 100 beats per minute (BPM) at rest. With that being said, lower is typically better when it comes to your HR, because it means there is less stress on the heart.
There are many fitness trackers to choose from. This wearable technology makes it possible for people to identify their HR at all times by glancing at their wrist. Research which model is best for you and your needs.
If you don’t have a HR monitor, no problem! Simply check your pulse at the wrist using your index and middle finger of the opposite hand. Gently press below the base of the thumb and count the beats for 15 seconds. Multiply that number by 4. This is your HR/pulse, no gadget needed.
Factors that raise HR
There are many things that can increase or affect your HR, including exercise, stress, hot and cold weather, emotions, medication, caffeine, alcohol, smoking and sodium intake. Your HR should increase with exercise and emotional responses, but when it gets too high, it can lead to symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue and dizziness.
Factors that lower HR
We typically see a lower HR when a person first wakes from a good night’s sleep or following a workout. Keep in mind that it’s important to include a good cooldown, at least 5 to 10 minutes, after activity to give the HR a chance to come down. A slow walk and easy stretching are perfect options.
Generally speaking, active people (in comparison to nonactive individuals) and athletes have a lower HR because the heart muscle is physically fit. The heart muscle is in good shape and doesn’t have to work as hard to get physical and aerobic tasks done.
A HR can be too low. When this happens, people can become symptomatic, experiencing fatigue, dizziness, light headedness or near fainting, confusion and an inability to exercise. In this instance, it’s important to seek a medical consultation.
Strategies for lowering HR
If you want to lower your HR, there are lifestyle modifications you can make to encourage a shift, including:
- Stress relief – Try this deep breathing exercise: Inhale through the nose for 3 to 5 seconds, then exhale through the mouth for 3 to 5 seconds. Repeat 3 to 5 times. This practice can be utilized during stressful/emotional situations.
- Decrease caffeine
- Decrease alcohol intake
- Quit smoking
- Get in regular physical activity
If you are experiencing concerning symptoms that could be related to your HR or heart function, it’s always best to seek a medical consultation.