Your heart rate can be a seriously helpful tool when it comes to meeting your fitness goals. When you understand the way your heart works and how fast it should be pumping during exercise, you can design your workout program to hit your target heart-rate zones for maximum fitness gains.
Your exercising heart rate is only one piece of the puzzle, though — your resting heart rate (RHR) constitutes the majority of your day. While you're sitting down, working or relaxing at the end of your day, your heart settles into a rhythm that's just fast enough to keep your body running efficiently.
What Is Your Resting Heart Rate?
Your resting heart rate, also called your resting pulse, is a measure of how many times your heart beats while you're at rest. Your RHR is measured in beats per minute, or bpm.
"At rest" usually means sitting or standing without moving much. Your heart rate doesn't change much between sitting and standing, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), so you can get an accurate measure in either position.
How to Find Your Resting Heart Rate
The AHA says that the best way to get an accurate measure of your RHR is to take your pulse before you even roll out of bed in the morning. Because you were at rest all night, your heart rate is lowest right when you wake up.
To find your RHR, first choose a pulse location. The best locations are your wrists, the insides of your elbows, either side of your neck and the top of your foot. Put your finger over your pulse (don't press too hard), set a timer for 60 seconds and count the number of beats that occur in those 60 seconds.
You can also count for 30 seconds and multiply by two, or count for 15 seconds and multiply by four. Just know that the margin of error increases as you reduce the seconds. You'll get the most accurate measure if you count for a full 60 seconds, according to the AHA.
What Is a 'Normal' Resting Heart Rate?
The American Heart Association and most other major health agencies — including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic — define a normal resting heart rate for adults as one that falls between 60 and 100 bpm.
The range is so wide because scientific studies have failed to pinpoint a healthy resting heart rate that's "normal" for all people. In fact, a groundbreaking February 2020 study in the journal PLOS One found that a "normal" resting heart rate can vary by as much as 70 beats per minute among people.
The study authors explained that "a single measurement of heart rate provides very little useful information about the current health of an individual, unless well out of the expected range of normal."
But some research, such as the MATISS Project published in the October 2000 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, has shown that even when a person's resting heart rate does fall within the accepted normal range, it doesn't necessarily mean they aren't at risk for cardiovascular issues. And an April 2019 study in Scientific Reports suggests that resting heart rates on the lower end of "normal" (lower than 65 bpm) can be just as dangerous as high resting heart rates.
The most important thing is that your RHR is normal for you: Most people's RHR remains relatively stable over time, although it can change as you get older and if you increase or decrease your activity level. If you're concerned about your resting heart rate, be sure to talk to your doctor.
What Your Resting Heart Rate Says About Your Health
Despite the variability in the normal range, your RHR can say a lot about your health. In fact, it's one of the most important factors that health professionals use to understand your health status and fitness level — that's why your doctor measures your pulse at the beginning of every single visit.
Your RHR Can Indicate Your Fitness Level
In general, the better your physical fitness, the lower your RHR will be, according to the Mayo Clinic. A January 2018 editorial in the journal Heart states that RHR can be as low as 30 bpm in people in "good physical condition" — in this sense, "good physical condition" likely means extremely well-conditioned athletes like marathoners.
However, the average daily exerciser probably won't have an RHR that low, and it will more likely hover around the low end of the accepted normal range. And since RHR varies from person to person, it's not always the case that lower equals fitter. Factors that can influence your RHR, aside from fitness level, include:
- Climate and air temperature
- Emotions, such as stress
- Having cardiovascular disease
- Having diabetes or high cholesterol
Your RHR Can Signify Heart Problems
If your RHR is abnormally high (tachycardia) or abnormally low (bradycardia), it might be a sign that something is wrong. Any other abnormal heartbeat, known as arrhythmia, can potentially indicate health problems. According to the Mayo Clinic, some causes and complications associated with abnormal heartbeats include:
- Heart failure
- Coronary artery disease
- High blood pressure
- Heart attack
- Scarred heart tissue from a prior heart attack
- Electrolyte imbalance
Your RHR Is Related to Your Disease Risk
It's fairly well-established that your RHR can indicate your risk for certain diseases, according to the Cleveland Clinic. A June 2017 review of studies in Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases found that a higher resting heart rate was associated with greater risk of numerous complications, including:
- Coronary heart disease
- Heart failure
- Atrial fibrillation
- Sudden cardiac death
- Some cancers
And a May 2018 study in the International Journal of Cardiology found that young men with a higher resting heart rate have a greater risk of heart failure later in life, as well as early death. And in middle-aged men, an RHR of 75 bpm or greater has been associated with increased disease risk for the next 11 years of life, per an April 2019 study in Open Heart.
Resting Heart Rate by Age
Unlike maximum heart rate or target heart rates during exercise, there's no true average by age for adults. The NIH has established normal ranges for people up to 10 years old, but after that point, the average is 60 to 100 bpm.
Resting Heart Rate by Age
Normal Resting Heart Rate (RHR)
0 to 1 month
70 to 190 bpm
1 to 11 months
80 to 160 bpm
1 to 2 years
80 to 130 bpm
3 to 4 years
80 to 120 bpm
5 to 6 years
75 to 115 bpm
7 to 9 years
70 to 110 bpm
10 years and up
60 to 100 bpm
How to Lower Your Resting Heart Rate
The very best way to lower your RHR is to pick up an exercise habit. Any exercise can help improve your RHR, but cardiovascular exercise is particularly effective at strengthening your heart, according to a December 2018 meta-analysis in the Journal of Clinical Medicine that found that endurance training and yoga significantly decrease RHR in both men and women.
Walking, jogging, cycling, swimming and hiking are all great forms of steady-state cardio that can help lower your RHR. Interval training and high-volume weight-lifting with light-to-moderate weights can also help.
Try these other tactics that can help to decrease your RHR over time:
- American Heart Association: "All About Heart Rate (Pulse)."
- Mayo Clinic: "Heart rate: What's normal?"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Pulse & Heart Rate."
- American Journal of Public Health: "Heart Rate as a Predictor of Mortality: The MATISS Project"
- Nature: "Association of resting heart rate and its change with incident cardiovascular events in the middle-aged and older Chinese"
- Heart: "Resting heart rate: what is normal?"
- American Heart Association: "Tachycardia: Fast Heart Rate"
- American Heart Association: "Bradycardia: Slow Heart Rate"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Arrhythmia: Irregular Heartbeat"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Your resting heart rate can reflect your current — and future — health"
- Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Disease: "Resting heart rate and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer, and all-cause mortality - A systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies."
- International Journal of Cardiology: "Resting heart rate in late adolescence and long term risk of cardiovascular disease in Swedish men"
- Open Heart: "Impact of changes in heart rate with age on all-cause death and cardiovascular events in 50-year-old men from the general population"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Pulse."
- Journal of Clinical Medicine: "Effects of Exercise on the Resting Heart Rate: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Interventional Studies"