A healthy heart is important, and fortunately there are many ways you can ensure you are treating your heart right. One of the simplest things you can do to assess your heart health is to keep tabs on your pulse — both when you are resting and when you are exercising.
This easily tracked vital detail can help you stay in tune with your body and recognize when things are normal — and when you might need to see a doctor for assessment and care. Here are the basics of what your heart rate can tell you about your overall health and your heart.
Your heart is an impressively efficient organ, designed to function at peak performance without overworking. What that means is that at any given moment, a healthy heart should be pumping at the lowest rate possible to give your body the oxygen it needs (which is delivered to your organs through your blood).
Your heart rate should be high enough to drive blood and oxygen through your body, but not so high that it is working too hard. This is where the idea of pulse rates that are “high,” “low,” and “normal” come from. Too high, and your heart is working harder than is ideal. Too low, and it is not working hard enough. Normal, and you can know that your body is getting the blood and oxygen it needs at optimal rates.
Your resting pulse rate is the speed per minute (or, number of beats per minute) that your heart beats when you are at rest, such as when you first wake up in the morning or have been sitting and relaxing.
The average resting heart rate for adult men and women who are healthy is between 60-100 beats per minute (bpm). Women’s heart rates generally run 2-7 beats faster per minute than men’s.
Check out this chart of average heart rates (bpm = beats per minute):
When you work out, your heart will naturally work harder to supply oxygen to your body by pumping faster. In fact, one of the goals of a good exercise program is to aim to get your pulse up to a “target heart rate” — a range in which you can strengthen your heart and your body. If you are exercising, aim to increase your resting heart rate by 60-85% for the best results.
Another way to calculate this ideal range is to subtract your age from 220. That number is your “maximum heart rate” (see below). Then multiply that number by 60-85%. Aim to stay within this range for healthy exercise.
Your “maximum heart rate” is the number of beats per minute your heart will produce if it is working at its very hardest. Ideally, you do not want to push yourself all the way to this threshold. Instead, you want to stay below it, even when exercising.
To get this rate, as mentioned above, subtract your age from 220. That’s your maximum heart rate. As you can tell, this rate decreases as you get older.
There are many factors that can affect your heart rate, and not all of them mean you have a health problem. Common elements that influence your pulse include:
Children typically have a higher average pulse rate than adults. As we age, our heart rate may increase a bit too.
People who are more regularly active and have a consistent exercise routine typically have a lower heart rate than those who do not. In fact, exercise is one way to bring your heart rate into a healthier range if you have moderately high blood pressure because of this protective factor.
As a related note, your pulse is typically lower when you are lying down (and have been doing so awhile), compared to when you are standing and moving around.
If you are a smoker, you are setting up your body to experience a number of possible health concerns in the future. One of those is heart conditions. Smoking has a negative impact on heart health, including heart rate.
Heart health in general, and heart rate in particular, can be affected by common conditions that many Americans face, including diabetes, high cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease. Being overweight can also tie into having a higher pulse.
As the outdoor temperatures rise (such as the brutal heat we can experience in Tulsa every summer), your body is affected. Being outdoors in the heat can raise your body temperature — and for every degree your body temperature goes up, your heart beats up to 10 beats per minute faster than usual. This is one reason heat stroke can be so dangerous.
Feeling stressed or worried? Or perhaps you are in a situation where you are facing a great shock? Strong emotions actually can bump up your pulse rate.
Obviously, there are medications that are intended to lower heart rate, such as blood pressure pills. But there are prescriptions you may take for conditions other than heart issues that can affect your pulse rate. Asthma medicine, cold medicine, certain antidepressants, and thyroid medications may also affect your heart rate.
When you hear doctors talk about your pulse, know that they are taking into consideration what is normal for you. And that may vary depending on age, gender, existing health conditions, whether you are exercising or relaxing, and other factors.
You may have heard that having a low pulse rate is a sign of health. And yes, often it can be. A healthy heart works at maximum efficiency, with little to no issues such as artery-clogging cholesterol or damaged valves to impede its performance. A lower heart rate, in general, means that your body is not being forced to compensate for damage to the heart and blood vessels.
However, it is possible for your heart to beat too slowly — which means your organs are not receiving vital oxygen and nutrients quickly enough. This condition (called bradycardia) can lead to a host of other health issues if not treated.
As a general rule, your pulse rate should not be lower than 60 beats per minute if you are awake. Your pulse may drop below that just a bit when you’re sleeping, or if you are on certain medications such as beta blockers. For athletes in peak condition (think pro athletes in training), one’s heart rate can drop to as low as 40 bpm and still be considered acceptable.
But for average adults (and that is most of us!), a heart that beats slower than 60 bpm is a sign of a possible issue to be addressed.
When you are involved in vigorous physical activity, such as exercising at the gym, your heart rate will naturally increase. Other activities, such as shoveling snow or dirt, can also drive up your pulse. After activity, your pulse rate should decrease to within the normal range pretty quickly.
However, if your heart is normally beating at the high end of the normal range (90+ bpm), and especially if it is beating higher than 100 bpm on a regular basis, it is wise to consult a physician, as this can be a symptom of cardiovascular disease.
In general, you should seek medical guidance when one of these situations arises:
Compassionate, Personalized Heart Health Care in Tulsa
Whether you are experiencing specific symptoms that are concerning you, or whether you want advice on how chronic conditions or medications may be impacting your heart’s health, we are here for you. At Midtown Surgical & Skin Institute, our caring team, led by Dr. William Hanner, is dedicated to providing thorough, individualized service you can count on to help you move forward in your health journey.
Contact us to set up a consultation — and get answers to your questions, and peace of mind about your health.