What is heart rate?
The heart rate is the number of heartbeats that occur per minute. The normal heart rate depends from person-to-person. As people get older, the heart rate changes and pulse regularity may change, which can signify heart problems or other medical conditions.
Your heart rate may also increase when your body needs more oxygen or nutrients such as during exercise or when responding to acute stress, which triggers a fight-or-flight response.
Difference Between Heart Rate and Pulse
A pulse is created when the heart pumps blood through the arteries, which can be felt close to the skin surface. Your pulse is basically the number of times in minutes when your arteries expand and contract in response to the heart. Therefore, your pulse is the direct measurement of your heart rate.
How to Measure Your Heart Rate
You can determine your heart rate by checking the pulse on your wrist or on the side of your neck, inside of your elbow, and top of the foot.
- Neck: Place your index and third finger on the side of the windpipe.
- Wrist: Place just two fingers lightly on the thumb side of the wrist over the radial artery between the bone and tendon.
After locating the pulse in your neck or wrist, start counting the number of beats in 60 seconds.
Normal Resting Heart Rate
Your resting heart rate means that your heart is pumping a minimal amount of blood since you are resting. If you are calm, relaxed, not ill, sitting, or lying down, your heart rate is normally between 60-100 beats per minute.
However, having a heart rate lower than 60 beats per minute does not necessarily signify a health problem. Taking certain drugs such as beta blockers can result in lower heart rates. Active and athletic people also tend to have lower heart rates since their heart muscle is in better shape and does not need to work hard to achieve a steady heartbeat.
The pulse gets slower through childhood toward adolescence. The US National Institutes of Health (NHI) had published the following normal resting heart rates:
- 1 month - 70-190
- 1-11 months - 80-160
- 1-2 years old - 80-130
- 3-4 years old - 80-120
- 5-6 years old - 75-115
- 7-9 years old - 70-110
- 10 years old - 60-100
- 10 years old and above, adults, and seniors - 60-100
The heart rate of well-trained athletes can fall below 60 and can come down to as low as 40 beats per minute. Moreover, the heart rate may vary depending on various factors such as exercise, body positioning, emotions, and body temperature.
Your heart rate is an important health gauge. Even though you are not an athlete, knowing your heart rate enables you to monitor your fitness level. It also helps you get a picture of your health by potentially recognizing developing health problems. Getting unexplained fast or very low heart rates can signify potential health issues, especially when they are accompanied by weakness or dizziness.
A person who is very fit might have a heart rate of 40 beats per minute. On the contrary, a person who is less active may have a heart rate between 60-100 beats per minute. The heart rate may not indicate anything about the blood pressure. Thus, the blood pressure needs to be separately checked.
If you have a resting heart rate of 40 beats per minute, it could mean that you are fit but it could also mean other problems. If you experience dizziness, breathlessness, and fainting spells, seek medical help immediately. If your heart rate is fast, it could indicate signs of health problems as well.
It has been revealed through research that having a fast resting heartbeat might indicate the chances of an early death as well as existing heart diseases. There are people who take medications to help lower their heart rate.
Other Factors That Affect the Heart Rate
- Body Size - People who are obese might have a higher resting pulse, but not more than 100 beats per minute.
- Body Position - The pulse usually remains the same while resting, standing, or sitting position. Sometimes, as you stand, the pulse may initially increase a bit for a few seconds but should recover back to normal.
- Air Temperature - When the temperature (humidity) is increased, the heart tends to pump more blood. For this reason, the pulse also increases but not more than 5-10 beats per minute. The heart needs to pump blood more quickly on hotter days.
- Emotions - Changes in your emotions may also increase your pulse.
- Medications - Beta blockers tend to lower the heart rate. A thyroid medication overdose may also affect the heart rate.
Drastic changes in the heart rate can indicate a heart problem.
A well-trained athlete will have a lower resting heart rate than normal. The heart rate becomes lower due to regular exercise and physical exertion. The American Heart Association has recommended the following guidelines about heart rate and exercise:
- During exercise, the maximum heart rate should be approximately 220 minus the age of the person. For example, if a person is 40 years old, then during exercise, the maximum heart rate of that person is 180 beats per minute.
- The target reduction can be obtained through a gradual increase in exertion.
- The target zone is between 50-85 percent of the 220-minus-age figure.
Normal Exercising Heart Rate/Target Training Heart Rate
A normal exercising heart rate depends on a person's age. This is known as the predicted maximal heart rate. A more accurate equation is:
- HRmax = 208 – (0.7 x age)
The predicted maximal heart rate for a 20-year-old can be 194 beats per minute, and in case of a 65-year-old, it can be 163 beats per minute. However, this equation in younger adults tends to overestimate the heart rate and underestimated in older adults. Cardiovascular disease is one of the most common causes of many deaths, which can be prevented by being physically active. The following guidelines have been recommended by the American Heart Association:
- Aerobic Activity - Moderate intensity for 30 minutes daily at least five days a week. It accounts for a total of 150 minutes or three days a week with a high-intensity 25 minute-aerobic activity.
- Muscle Strengthening - At least two days per week of moderate to high-intensity muscle strengthening activity.
Determine your maximal heart rate to know your exercising heart rates.
- Generally, the heart rate should be 50-90 percent of the maximal heart rate during exercise. This range is considered as the target heart rate.
- While carrying out moderate-intensity exercises, the target heart rate should be 50-70 percent of your maximal heart rate. When carrying out high-intensity exercises, it should be 70-90 percent of the maximal heart rate.
- To evaluate cardiovascular diseases, a cardiac stress test is done, in which the target heart rate is 85 percent of the maximal heart rate.
Exercises include running, biking, climbing stairs, walking, jogging, playing sports, and swimming. The heart rate is very important in predicting cardiovascular diseases. It is a positive marker of a high-risk health profile. With various exercise programs and diet, the risks can be lowered. Hence, a resting heart rate can be improved and a normal heart rate can be recovered.
Abnormal Heart Rhythm
There is an electrical system that provides instructions to the heart on when to beat and pump the blood. An abnormal heart rhythm is experienced when there is a problem with this electrical system. Generally, in response to various factors such as anxiety, exercise, fear, and excitement, it is normal for the heartbeat to vary. Consult a doctor if you feel that your heartbeat is too fast or too slow. Sometimes, the heart may skip a beat or have an extra beat known as ectopic beats. They are usually harmless and require no treatment. The various types of abnormal heart rhythms are:
- Atrial Fibrillation (AFib or AF) - the heart beats in an erratic pattern instead of a normal beat.
- Tachycardia - is an abnormally fast heart rate mostly seen in disorders such as supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), atrial flutter (AFL), atrial fibrillation (AFib), ventricular tachycardia (VT), ventricular fibrillation (v-fib), and inappropriate sinus tachycardia (IST).
- Bradycardia - is a slow heart rate, which can result from a bundle branch block, AV heart block, or tachy-brady syndrome.
How the Heart Beats
The pacemaker of the heart regulates the rate of heartbeats. This pacemaker is called the sinoatrial node. The special cells of the sinoatrial node create an electrical impulse. This electricity causes a heartbeat by contraction of the heart muscle that then pumps the blood. The heart's cardiac conduction system or electrical system consists of the pacemaker, which regulates the heartbeat. The readings can be obtained by an electrocardiogram (ECG).