Your heart rate can be a telltale sign of your overall heart health. Raising your heart rate to a specific target regularly can help your cardiovascular system work more effectively -- it's part of the reason why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day. There are times, however, when increasing your heart rate can be a sign of a medical issue, so contact your doctor if your heart rate is unusually high.
One of the best ways to safely increase your heart rate is through aerobic exercise -- fitness where the main purpose is a healthier heart. To increase your heart rate, first find your target heart rate -- subtract your age from 220 to find your maximum heart rate and then raise your pulse 50 to 85 percent of that number, suggests the Cleveland Clinic. When you're just starting out, walking, hiking, water aerobics or light cycling can get you to 50 percent of your maximum. If you're more advanced, higher-impact aerobic exercise like swimming laps, running or kickboxing can get you within the 70 to 85 percent range.
While aerobic exercise helps raise your heart rate, an exercise program is incomplete without resistance training as well. Body weight exercises, lifting weights and other resistance exercises help work your muscles. Your working muscles require more oxygenated blood, therefore raising your heart rate. When you lift weights or do body weight exercises, aim for eight to 12 repetitions, suggests the NYU Langone Medical Center. If you can't reach eight, you're lifting too heavy -- if you can easily do more than 10 or 12, you're lifting too light and may not be getting all of the benefits of resistance-based exercise.
Environmental temperature can make a large difference for your heart rate. The American Heart Association notes that warmer air temperatures can increase your heart rate around five to 10 beats per minute. It may sound like a small increase, but it can make a difference with regard to the safety of your exercise. If you're exercising in high heat and pushing your body to the higher end of your target heart rate range, you could run the risk of a heart rate that is too high -- lightheadedness, dizziness and even cardiac issues, for example.
Certain medical issues could be to blame for a high resting heart rate or a heart that increases dramatically with even little physical movement. Being overweight is a major risk factor for heart disease because it puts extra strain on the heart. Smoking can also result in a faster pulse and a higher risk for heart disease. If you notice that simple movements -- climbing stairs or carrying groceries, for example -- leaves you out of breath and your pulse racing, it's time to see your doctor for a checkup and lifestyle changes that could keep your heart rate healthy.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity do Adults Need?
- Cleveland Clinic: Heart and Vascular Health & Prevention
- NYU Langone Medical Center: Strength Training: the Missing Link
- American Heart Association: All About Heart Rate (Pulse)
- Harvard Health Publications: Increase in Resting Heart Rate is a Signal Worth Watching