It’s pretty common to check your exercise heart rate during or after a workout. Some people even wear fitness trackers to keep an eye on their heart rate. As long as you know your heart rate during exercise, you’ll be able to stay in the aerobic zone, but you should also know your heart rate at rest. You’ll learn why in this article.
Resting heart rate goes up when your body is mentally or physically stressed. For example, when you see something frightening, your adrenal glands pump out stress hormones that cause your heart to start pounding. These hormones, like adrenalin and noradrenaline turn on your body’s fight-or-flight response, and your sympathetic nervous system, goes into overdrive. But training too hard without adequate recovery also stresses your body and this can be reflected in changes to your resting heart rate.
Resting Heart Rate as a Sign of Overtraining
One of the first signs you’re overtraining may be an increase in your resting heart rate. The best time to check your resting heart rate is upon awakening in the morning before getting out of bed. The best way to do this is to place your hand at the side of your neck or on your wrist and count the number of beats for 20 seconds. Multiply the value by 3 to get your heart rate for one minute.
Write your resting heart rate down into your fitness journal, so you can follow it over time for changes. If you track your resting heart rate for a few days and it’s more than five points above its baseline, you may be pushing yourself too hard during your workouts and not giving your body a chance to fully recover. Give yourself a rest day or two and see if your resting heart rate comes down.
Outside factors that can cause your resting heart rate to rise, other than stress, is dehydration or fever. The rise in heart rate from a fever may be quite pronounced. Some health conditions can do it too, including an overactive thyroid, certain heart conditions, lung conditions, and anxiety. Some medications can change your resting heart rate too.
Resting Heart Rate as a Marker of Heart Health
Your resting heart rate may say something about the health of your heart. Some studies show that a lower resting heart rate is linked with a healthier heart. A study of 130,000 post-menopausal women found those who had faster heart rates at rest were more likely to have a heart-related health event, like a heart attack than those with lower resting heart rates. People who aren’t as physically fit also have faster-resting heart rates because their heart doesn’t beat as efficiently.
Most adults have a resting heart rate between 60 and 90 beats per minute, but athletes and people who exercise hard may have a resting heart rate in the 50s or even 40s. However, a heart rate in the ’40s may also be a sign of heart conduction problems, so it’s a good idea to see a physician. Likewise, you should let your physician know if your resting heart rate is often above 100 beats per minute. This could be a sign of other health problems too, like an overactive thyroid gland.
The Value of Checking Your Exercise Heart Rate and Your Recovery Heart Rate
Your heart rate during exercise will help you determine whether you’re reaching your fitness goals. If you’re training in the cardiovascular zone, your heart rate should be between 50% and 85% of your maximum heart rate.
Although the formula isn’t completely accurate, you can estimate your resting heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. If you’re 50, for example, your maximum resting heart rate would be 170. So, if you’re within 50 to 85% of this value, you’re training at high enough intensity to get cardiovascular benefits.
What you might not realize is your heart rate rises even before you begin a workout in anticipation of the work to follow. In fact, research suggests that a sharp rise in heart rate in anticipation of exercise might signify a greater risk of death. An increase of greater than 12 beats per minute from the resting rate) just before exercise began was linked with double the risk of dying a heart-related death in males relative to those who experienced less than a 4 beat-per-minute rise in heart rate.
Why might this be? A big change in heart rate in anticipation of exercise may indicate an imbalance with the autonomic, or automatic, nervous system that regulates how the heart responds to stress.
Studies also show that people whose heart rate falls less than 12 beats per minute in the first minute after exercise may be at higher risk of heart-related death. This is called the recovery heart rate. On the other hand, if your heart rate drops by 20 beats or more at the end of one minute after exercise, that’s a sign that your heart and nervous system respond well to exercise-induced stress.
How to Check Your Exercise Heart Rate
You check your exercise heart rate in the same way you do your resting heart rate. Stop moving and check your pulse at the radial artery in your wrist for 20 seconds or the carotid artery in your neck and multiply the value by three. To check your recovery heart rate, check your rate immediately after exercise and again one minute later. Subtract the first value from the second.
The Bottom Line
Your resting heart rate and recovery heart rate say something about the health of your heart. A healthy heart recovers quickly from exercise and also beats more efficiently at rest. An increase in resting heart rate from baseline can also be a sign you’re exercising too hard and placing too much stress on your body. So, time for a break? You can also use your heart rate during exercise to make sure you’re in the aerobic training zone. It’s a useful metric to follow.
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