Checking your pulse is usually one of the first things that happens when you visit your doctor. This simple test is quick and painless, and provides information about your overall health. It also can be an important factor in making a diagnosis. What is considered a normal pulse rate varies according to your age, sex and cardiovascular fitness. Your pulse is also affected by temporary influences, such as medication use, stress, hydration status and physical activity.
Healthy Pulse Rate
The normal resting pulse range for adults is 60 to 100 beats per minute. Normal ranges vary by age, and women usually have slightly higher pulse rates compared to men. People who are physically fit often have slower resting heart rates because a stronger heart can pump more blood with each contraction. If you're standing, your pulse is likely to be higher than when you're sitting or lying down because your heart must work harder to pump blood around the body against the force of gravity.
Factors Influencing Heart Rate
Along with age and fitness level, other factors influence your pulse rate. Medications commonly used to treat heart disease, including beta blockers and calcium channel blockers, lower your heart rate. Emotions such as excitement, anxiety, stress and fear can set your heart racing. Temperature also plays a role. When your body temperature rises, your pulse does, too. Your resting heart rate also changes with your level of physical exertion, so take your pulse after resting for about 10 to 15 minutes.
Normal Pulse Rate During Exercise
When you exercise, your heart beats faster because your muscles and organs need more oxygen-rich blood. Moderately intense aerobic exercise, such as fast walking or cycling, typically raises your pulse to 50 to 75 percent of your maximum heart rate, which is about 220 minus your age. More strenuous exercise, such as jogging or playing basketball, speeds your pulse and heart rate up to 75 to 85 percent of your maximum rate. Your pulse rate will gradually return to resting level after you stop exercising.
When taking your pulse, your healthcare provider notes both the rate and rhythm. An abnormal heart rate or rhythm is known as an arrhythmia. An occasional skipped beat or extra beat is common and is generally not cause for concern. However, persistent or recurring heart rhythm abnormalities require medical evaluation. Abnormal rhythms can affect an otherwise normal, healthy heart.
Warnings and Precautions
Call your doctor if your pulse rate is consistently above or below normal levels, or if you notice a rate or rhythm abnormality combined with warning signs and symptoms, such as:
-- sensation of a pounding or racing heart
-- dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting
-- poor or diminishing exercise tolerance
-- shortness of breath or rapid breathing with minimal exertion
Reviewed by: Tina M. St. John, M.D.