WHEN SHOULD I WORRY ABOUT...

What Should Your Resting Heart Rate Be?

April 21, 2021 - Katie McCallum

Out of all the health stats to keep your eye on, your resting heart rate might feel like one of the more boring ones.

Seeing your heart rate rise while you're exercising can be a confidence boost, letting you know you're getting a good workout in. Checking it when your heart feels like it's beating out of your chest is a fun reminder of just how anxiety-inducing some everyday situations can be — like going on a first date or watching sports.

But when you're just sitting down — binge-watching some TV or typing away at your computer — checking your resting heart rate can feel...anti-climactic.

And yet, it's important to do now and then. A healthy heart is a strong heart, after all.

"Monitoring your resting heart rate is important because it can help provide clues about your overall heart health. For instance, a consistently high resting heart rate can be a sign that your heart isn't working as efficiently as it could be. In some cases, it can even be a sign of an underlying heart condition," explains Dr. Bindu Chebrolu, cardiologist at Houston Methodist.

Plus, one of the benefits of knowing your resting heart rate is that there are ways to lower it if it is too high.

What is resting heart rate?

Even if you don't always feel it, your heart is always beating. (You knew that, though.)

If your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute, your resting heart rate, then, is the number of times your heart beats per minute while you're at rest.

"It's normal for your resting heart rate to differ from someone else's, and it's also normal for your own heart rate to vary slightly throughout the course of the day," says Dr. Chebrolu.

Factors that can affect your resting heart rate include:

  • Age
  • Fitness level
  • Activity (sitting vs. standing)
  • Having heart disease, diabetes or higher cholesterol
  • Medications
  • Smoking
  • Emotions you experience
  • External conditions, including air temperature

"Generally speaking, though, a normal resting heart rate typically ranges between 60 to 100 beats per minute in adults," adds Dr. Chebrolu.

Also, don't forget a normal heart rate does not imply a normal blood pressure.

How is resting heart rate calculated?

Measuring your resting heart rate is as easy as checking your pulse, which can be felt on the side of your neck (beside your windpipe) or the underside of your wrist (closer towards the same side as your thumb).

While sitting down — and once you feel your pulse — count the number of beats you feel over the span of 30 seconds (as timed by a watch). Multiply this number by two to calculate your heart beats per minute.

"To get an accurate representation of your resting heart rate, repeat this process a few times and over the course of a few days," adds Dr. Chebrolu.

She also advises against checking your heart rate immediately after a stressful event, strenuous activity or consuming caffeine, which can lead to temporary elevation in your heart rate.

Additionally, most wearable fitness trackers and smart watches provide insights into your heart rate. And since these devices collect measurements throughout the day, they're a simple way to effortlessly monitor your average resting heart rate.

"The heart rate measurements taken by wearable devices may not be as reliable as checking your pulse by hand, but they can help you track general trends and spot changes in your resting heart rate," says Dr. Chebrolu.

And while some smartwatches now come with an ECG (electrocardiogram) feature that can help monitor for heart rhythm issues, these devices alone cannot detect a life-threatening arrhythmia, such as atrial fibrillation (AFib).

"A smartwatch may help you take a more active role in your heart health, but these devices shouldn't be relied upon to screen for, diagnose and/or manage an irregular heart rate. If you're worried about your heart rate being too high, too low or irregular, talk to your doctor and schedule a heart health screening," advises Dr. Chebrolu.

Can resting heart rate be too high?

Can resting heart rate be too high?

As mentioned, normal heart rate can range between 60 to 100 beats per minute. So, if your resting heart rate is consistently higher than 100, do you need to be worried?

"The more beats your heart has to take on a regular basis, the more strain it places on your heart over time. A resting heart rate regularly above 100 beats per minute is called tachycardia, which can place you at an increased risk of heart disease, and even death if your heart rate climbs high enough," warns Dr. Chebrolu.

This means that it's incredibly important to talk to your doctor if you're resting heart rate is consistently high. He or she can run the tests and bloodwork needed to assess your overall heart health.

Your doctor can also recommend lifestyle changes that may help lower your resting heart rate, including:

  • Getting regular exercise
  • Regularly practicing relaxation techniques, such as yoga and meditation
  • Losing excess weight
  • Maintaining healthy choices and modifying your cardiovascular risk factors
  • Avoiding certain prescription and over-the-counter medications that can affect your heart rate (and considering switching to alternative medications if needed or possible)
  • Avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol use

"In particular, starting an exercise program can help you decrease your resting heart rate up to one beat per minute for every week or so that you train — with reductions in resting heart rate, over time, ranging from 10 to 12 beats per minute," adds Dr. Chebrolu.

Can resting heart rate be too low?

While less common, some people may have a resting heart rate that falls lower than 60 beats per minute.

"When a person's heart muscle is in excellent condition, it doesn't have to work as hard to keep a steady beat. Therefore, people who exercise frequently and are very physically fit can have a resting heart rate that falls below 60 beats per minute. In fact, a trained athlete's resting heart rate can be as low as 40 beats per minute," explains Dr. Chebrolu.

Additionally, medications, specifically beta blockers, can also slow your heart rate.

"The time to worry about a low heart rate is if you're not very active and you're not taking medications but your resting heart rate frequently falls below 60 beats per minute, especially if you're also experiencing dizziness, shortness of breath or fainting," warns Dr. Chebrolu. "This can be a sign of bradycardia — a slower than normal heart rate that can lead to poor oxygen flow to your vital organs."

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