How to Check Your Own Heart Rate

How to check your pulse

Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee

Have you ever wondered how to tell if you are exercising at the right intensity? Checking the number of heartbeats you experience per minute, more commonly known as your heart rate, can help you determine the best level of intensity for your workout.

It also can help you identify when you are over-exerting yourself as well as when you are not pushing hard enough. But checking your heart rate provides other useful information, too.

Your resting heart rate, target heart rate, and maximum heart rate can also tell you different things regarding your health. For instance, your heart rate can let you know when your stress levels are too high or when you have had too much caffeine.

Your heart rate can even be an indicator of when to see a doctor. Learn more about your maximum heart rate, target heart rate, resting heart rate, and how to check your pulse.

Importance of a Healthy Heart Rate

Having a lower heart rate is often linked to a healthy heart and good cardiovascular fitness. This lower heart rate is important for heart health and bodily function. Having a healthy heart rate also can help prevent heart attacks and strokes, among other things.

Exercise and diet can both contribute to a healthy heart. While conversely, drugs, alcohol, caffeine, and cigarettes, can lead to an unhealthy heart rate. 

Overall, many factors contribute to your heart rate, says Edward R. Laskowski, MD. Some factors that affect heart rate include health conditions, fitness levels, age, body position, and more.

Factors Affecting Heart Rate

  • Activity levels
  • Age
  • Air temperature
  • Body position
  • Fitness
  • Health conditions
  • Medications

Engaging in regular cardiovascular exercise can help you keep your heart rate lower. Studies have found, however, that exercising at your target heart rate is important.

Those who exceeded their maximum heart rate regularly had a hard time recovering after exercise. Reaching your maximum heart rate too often can also lead to an increased risk for arrhythmias, chest pain, and discomfort.

How Heart Rate Affects a Workout

Maintaining the proper heart rate is vital for cardiovascular exercises. The heart rate that you are trying to keep while exercising is known as your target heart rate. Sustaining that rate will help you get the most out of your workout.

Having a heart rate below the target means that you may not be pushing yourself enough, and having one too high means that you’re over-exerting yourself. While some people may desire to push themselves as hard as possible, there is no benefit to over-exerting yourself. In addition, you run a much higher risk of getting injured, which could delay your progress long-term.

Typically, your target heart rate for cardiovascular exercise is 50% to 85% of your maximum heart rate. However, if you have a heart condition, asthma, or another condition that affects exercise capacity, you should consult a healthcare professional about your target heart rate.

Maximum Heart Rate

Your maximum heart rate is the upper limit of what your cardiovascular system can handle during vigorous exercise. You should never exceed your maximum heart rate. Thankfully, finding your maximum heart rate is easy. To find your maximum heart rate, simply subtract your age from 220.

In other words, if you are 20 years old, your maximum heart rate would be 220 - 20 = 200. In this scenario, you should not exceed 200 beats per minute (bpm) when exercising. Of course, this number varies depending on your age.

Maximum heart rate also can vary depending on certain health conditions.

If you have any health conditions that affect your heart, lungs, or exercise capacity in general, it is best to consult a healthcare professional about your maximum heart rate. Remember, exercising at your maximum heart rate should not be a goal. Instead, you want to ensure when you are exercising that you do not exceed that limit.

Target Heart Rate

From your maximum heart rate, you can then calculate your target heart rate. Your target heart rate is the optimal heart rate for exercise. Depending on your goals and preferences, your target heart rate should be 50% to 85% of your maximum heart rate.

According to the American Heart Association, moderate exercise should keep you between 50% to 70% of your maximum heart rate. For those who prefer a more intense workout, vigorous exercise should keep you between 70% to 85% of your maximum heart rate.

If you are just beginning a new exercise regimen or are not very fit, you should aim for the lower end of your target zone. You will still get the most out of your workout and recover more easily.

As you get stronger, you will notice that the same exercises begin to feel easier. These changes are likely a sign that your heart rate is not as high, and you may increase the intensity of your workout.

Always keep track of how an exercise makes you feel. Both moderate and vigorous exercises are OK, but it is not always best to work out at intense levels. Listen to your body and its needs, whether that means backing off some, taking a break, or grabbing a drink of water.

Resting Heart Rate

Your resting heart rate is what you would experience under normal conditions. While you are “at rest,” your heart rate should be between 60 and 100 bpm. Any higher or lower may indicate the need to see a healthcare professional.

Your resting heart rate is the rate at which your heart is pumping the lowest amount of oxygen necessary for your body. You should note, however, that your emotions can contribute to your resting heart rate.

If you are feeling anxious, angry, or excited, your heart rate will be higher.

With this in mind, it is best to check your resting heart rate in the morning after waking up. You also can check your heart rate at various points throughout the day to see how your heart rate fluctuates.

Keep track of your resting heart rate for a week or more and share this information with your healthcare provider, especially if it is concerning for you. This way, you will have a log of the fluctuations in your heart rate throughout the week.

How to Check Your Heart Rate

Whether you are trying to determine your resting heart rate or checking your heart rate during exercise, it is essential to know how to do it. Here are the steps you take to check your pulse or your heart rate:

  1. Find the part of your palm that is near your thumb—it raises when you move your thumb toward your palm.
  2. Put your pointer (index) and middle finger up and together.
  3. Place those two fingers on your inner wrist, just below your palm.
  4. Lightly feel around that area until you feel throbbing.
  5. Count the number of beats for 15 seconds and multiply that by four. That number is your pulse.

Your pulse and heart rate are equal. However, the terms do not necessarily mean the same thing. Your pulse refers to the number of times your arteries expand and contract in 1 minute.

You can use a fitness watch or other heart rate monitor to track your heart rate. Using a device can make it much easier to check your heart rate when exercising. 

When to See a Doctor

You should see a doctor if your resting heart rate is above 100 bpm consistently or below 60 bpm (and you are not a trained athlete). Having a high heart rate is called tachycardia, and having a low heart rate is bradycardia. Sometimes other symptoms accompany a high or low heart rate including fainting, dizziness, or shortness of breath.

Common symptoms that occur alongside a high heart rate include fatigue, dizziness, light-headedness, fainting, chest pain, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, a pounding or fluttering in the chest, or feeling your heart racing. If you experience any of these symptoms they could be a sign of a heart attack and you should get medical attention right away.

Heart Attack Warning Signs

  • Pain or discomfort in the chest
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Jaw, neck, or back pain
  • Discomfort or pain in the neck or shoulder
  • Shortness of breath

The most common symptom of heart attack for men is chest pain, while women are more likely to experience nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath, and pain in the neck or jaw. If you or a loved one experiences any of these symptoms get medical attention right away.

Conversely, common symptoms of a low heart rate include fatigue, dizziness, light-headedness, confusion, or an inability to exercise. If you experience more than one of these symptoms, check your heart rate and contact a healthcare professional right away.

A Word From Verywell

Knowing your target heart rate for your workouts can help you get the most out of it. Check your heart rate before, during, and after exercise. Doing so can help you not only maximize your workouts but also can help you monitor for any health conditions.

Seek immediate medical care if your heart rate goes below 60 bpm or over 100 bpm, especially if you are experiencing other symptoms as well such as tightness in the chest, dizziness, chest pain, or fatigue.

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. Pulse and heart rate.

  2. American Heart Association. Target heart rates chart.

  3. U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus. Pulse.

  4. American Heart Association. All about heart rate (pulse).

  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Your guide to physical activity and your heart.

  6. American Heart Association. Warning signs of a heart attack.

By Nicole M. LaMarco
Nicole M. LaMarco has 19 years of experience freelance writing for various publications. She researches and reads the latest peer-reviewed scientific studies and interviews subject matter experts. Her goal is to present that data to readers in an interesting and easy-to-understand way so they can make informed decisions about their health.