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What your heart rate can tell you about your health

More about this vital sign

This article was last updated on Feb. 8, 2023. 

It can be easy to forget about your heart — but even though you can’t see it or hear it, it keeps you alive with its consistent beating.

Measuring your resting heart rate (RHR), or the number of times your heart beats each minute when you’re at rest and relaxed, can clue you in to how your heart muscle is functioning. Along with other vital signs like blood pressure and cholesterol, your resting heart rate can tell you quite a bit about your health in real-time — if you pay close attention.

How to find your resting heart rate

You can measure your heart rate manually or with a wearable fitness tracker like a smartwatch or heart rate monitor that straps around your chest. If you don’t have something that automatically measures your heart rate throughout the day, here’s how you can do it manually External Site:

  • Make sure you’re relaxed and in a seated position (or laying down).
  • Use your index and middle fingers to find your pulse on the inside of your wrist just below your thumb or along either side of your neck under your jawline.
  • Once you can feel your pulse, watch the clock, or use a stopwatch to count the number of beats you feel in 30 seconds.
  • Double that number to get your beats per minute.
  • Repeat a few times to make sure you have a correct reading.

To get the most accurate reading possible, don’t measure your heart rate within two hours after exercise or a stressful situation, and wait at least an hour after consuming caffeine. You don’t need to measure your resting heart rate every day — a few times per week is fine to establish your normal.

Find deals on heart rate monitors and much more with Blue365®

Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield members have exclusive access to deals and discounts through the Blue365 program. With Blue365, you can save on wearable fitness trackers that automatically measure your heart rate, plus other devices from many well-known brands like FitBit®, Garmin®, Polar®, Reebok®, and much more.

Normal vs. abnormal heart rate

normal resting heart rate bradycardia tachycardia

Got that number? Great — let’s see what it means. It’s normal to have a resting heart rate between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Most healthy adults have a resting heart rate below 90 beats per minute, and most doctors want to see your resting heart rate fall between 60 and 80 beats per minute. That’s because a resting heart rate that falls on the higher end of normal can increase your risk for cardiovascular disease.

Depending on your level of physical fitness, you may even have a resting heart rate below 60 beats per minute. In fact, professional athletes often report a resting heart rate of 40 to 50 beats per minute External Site. However, if your resting heart rate is regularly below 60 beats per minute (bradycardia External Site) or above 100 beats per minute (tachycardia External Site), you should talk to your doctor — especially if you have other symptoms like fainting, dizziness, fatigue or shortness of breath.

How to lower your resting heart rate

Many factors can affect your resting heart rate, including your age, stress or anxiety, illness, fitness and activity levels, chronic conditions like high cholesterol or diabetes, hormones, and certain medications like some antidepressants and blood pressure drugs. However, there are several reliable ways to lower your resting heart rate if you’re concerned about it:

how to lower resting heart rate
  1. Exercise regularly. Staying active is one of the easiest ways to bring your resting heart rate down to a normal range. The American Heart Association recommends External Site getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity throughout the week — that’s just 30 minutes a day for five days. Need exercise inspiration? Head over to our Fitness section to find a variety of workouts for all levels of fitness and abilities.
  2. Lower your cholesterol levels. When your cholesterol levels are higher than normal, they restrict blood flow through your arteries and damage blood vessels, which can make your heart work harder than normal to pump blood throughout your body. You can lower your cholesterol levels by eating high amounts of fiber and lower amounts of fatty food.
  3. Quit smoking. Nicotine is a stimulant (just like caffeine), which means it makes your heart pump faster.
  4. Avoid alcohol. Drinking in moderation is fine, but regularly consuming more than four drinks per day can cause your heart to work harder and beat more quickly.
  5. Adjust medications. Some drugs, whether prescribed or available over the counter, can affect your heart rate. If you notice a sustained change in your resting heart rate and think a new medication may be to blame, talk to your doctor about alternatives to take instead.

The bottom line

While your heart rate can clue you in about the state of your health, it’s not a number you should necessarily obsess over — particularly if you have a wearable fitness tracker that displays it constantly. That’s because your heart rate can change from minute to minute or be lower one day and higher the next. The key is to figure out your normal, notice trends related to your lifestyle or activity, and talk to your doctor if you have concerns.

Blue365® is a discount program available to members who have medical coverage with Wellmark. This is NOT insurance.

Blue365® is a registered mark of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.

Reebok®, FitBit®, Garmin®, and Polar® are all registered marks of their respective companies. These are all independent companies that do not provide Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield products and services.

Healthy Living
Healthy Living