Resting Heart Rate and Fitness

Apple Watch Heart Rate
Apple Watch Heart Rate. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Your resting heart rate (RHR) is the number of times your heart beats per minute while at complete rest. It is an indicator of physical fitness as your resting heart rate will decrease as your heart becomes stronger with aerobic exercise training. A low resting heart rate indicates better fitness in people who are in athletic training or a workout program but it may have other significance for people who are not physically fit. Here are some facts about this number:

  • The units of RHR are beats per minute (bpm).
  • Adults with a high level of fitness may have a resting heart rate below 60 and some elite endurance athletes have a resting heart rate below 40.
  • A healthy resting heart rate for adults is 60 to 80 bpm.
  • An average adult resting heart rate range is 60 to 100 bpm, but it is associated with increased health risks including metabolic syndrome at the higher end of that range.
  • An elevated resting heart rate of 80 bpm and higher can be an indicator of increased cardiovascular risk and all-cause mortality risk, according to studies. The risk is most pronounced when the resting heart rate goes above 90 bpm.
  • Resting heart rate may be affected by medications. Beta blockers may lower your resting heart rate below 60.
  • A low resting heart rate in people who are not physically fit is called bradycardia. If you don't actively exercise and have a low RHR with symptoms of dizziness or shortness of breath, you should discuss this with your doctor.

How to Measure Your Resting Heart Rate

Your resting heart rate should be taken first thing in the morning, before getting out of bed. Take your pulse for 60 seconds. You need a device that counts seconds—use your mobile phone stopwatch or clock app or a clock or watch that has a second hand or displays seconds.

There are also apps such as Azumio Instant Heart Rate that use the flash on your mobile phone to take your pulse. Some fitness bands and smartwatches have LED heart rate sensors that measure your resting heart rate or your heart rate on demand.

What Your Resting Heart Rate Means

Vigorous aerobic exercise, such as running or cycling, has the most effect on lowering resting heart rate. Moderate-intensity exercise such as brisk walking has less effect. RHR is lowered as the heart muscle becomes stronger and is able to pump out more blood per heartbeat. The body needs less heart beats to pump the same amount of blood. If your heart muscle is weak, it needs to beat more times to pump the same amount of blood.

Exercise Recovery and Overtraining

Athletes often monitor their RHR to determine when they are fully recovered from a hard workout or race. They know their usual RHR and monitor it to to see when it returns to normal after a day or more.

A high resting heart rate is a sign of overtraining. Your resting heart rate may be elevated for one or more days after a vigorous endurance workout, such as running a 10K race or walking a half marathon. You might delay another hard workout until your resting heart rate has returned to its usual value.

Fitness monitors and apps that record resting heart rate daily may use that data to give you a notification as to when you are ready for another hard workout. If you aren't fully recovered, they may recommend a light intensity workout instead.

A Word From Verywell

Your resting heart rate is a useful number to know and monitor when you start a fitness program. As more and more wearable fitness trackers include heart rate detection, you won't even have to take your pulse to follow it. However, it's smart to check your pulse by a couple of methods to ensure that fitness band or smartwatch pulse detectors are working correctly.

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