By measuring our resting heart rate, we can monitor improvements to our health and fitness level. Many of us will enter into fitness and health routines that involve measuring our weight, body fat levels, and even our running times. And as we get fitter, one of the most important improvements can often go unmeasured: our heart rate.
Our heart beats all day long whether we’re moving, eating, sleeping, or standing still. And with each stroke, our heart pumps blood through our system carrying vital oxygen and fuel, and carrying out waste products. A heart that’s in good condition can do more with one beat than a heart that’s not as conditioned. This is why conditioned athletes have resting heart rates between 40 - 50 beats per minute which is well below the average of 70 bpm (males) and 75 bpm (females).
Most of us gauge our health and fitness by the bathroom scale. And while body weight is an important aspect to measure, there are many other improvements that can be measured too. Just as measuring body fat is a way to track our fitness improvement, measuring our heart rate at rest is a way for us to see the strengthening of our heart muscle.
Many athletes use heart rate monitors to track their workout intensity. Using the formula of: Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) = 220 – age…athletes can calculate their intensity level by dividing their workout heart rate by their MHR. For example, a 35 year-old has a MHR of 185 bpm (220 – 35). If they’re working out at an average of 148 bpm, then their workout intensity is approximately 80% of our MHR (148/185 = 0.8 = 80%). As we train in the 55% - 85% of our MHR range, our heart and cardiovascular system gets stronger. And as our heart gets stronger, our heart rate while resting gets lower.
The best time to measure your heart rate is first thing in the morning…while still in bed. Take your forefinger and middle finger and place them on your wrist, neck or temple where your pulse can be felt the strongest. Looking at your wristwatch or a clock with a second hand, count the number of beats in a 15 or 30-second period. Multiply this number by 4 for 15 seconds or 2 for 30 seconds to get the number of beats per minute (bpm). This is your resting heart rate.
My FitBit Surge has a heart rate monitor on the wrist strap that continually reads and records my heart rate. It quickly downloads my steps, workouts, and heart rate data via bluetooth to my iPad and provides nice graphs like the one above.
In recent years, there have been statistical links established between resting heart rate and longevity. There are even calculators out there that predict your life expectancy from your age and resting heart rate. It’s not a hard measurement to take and it’s a great feeling as you watch the number go down over time, knowing that your heart is getting stronger and healthier.
So how do you reduce your resting heart rate? Exercise! Cardiovascular exercise raises your heart rate in that 55% - 85% range discussed above. You can do this by walking, running, swimming, hiking, or using cardio equipment at the gym. You can measure your pulse manually or buy a heart rate monitor to determine your workout intensity. Heart rate monitors start at $50 and can be as much as $250, if you want added features like GPS and running map abilities. Check out the Gifts for Runners page for product ideas, if interested.
Besides being a good gauge of our fitness level, our heart rate can alert us when we’re fighting an infection, illness, or injury by being elevated above normal. Our hearts are our most important muscle, and the stronger our hearts become will have far-reaching impacts into our health, fitness level, quality of life, our athletic abilities, and our longevity.