There is no single number for a "normal" heart rate because people are all as different internally as externally. Age, sex, weight, physical conditioning and other factors work together to establish your normal heart rate. According to Medline Plus, a healthy heart rate for most adults is 60 to 100 beats per minutes. Athletes' heart rates may be as low as 40 bpm, which is healthy for them.
Dr. Linda Vorvick of the University of Washington School of Medicine, writing for Medline Plus, suggests measuring your pulse where an artery lies just under the skin. These are behind your knees, on the inner side or top of your foot, your groin, neck and temples.
Exercise physiologists at Montana State University recommend taking your pulse four hours after work or exercise, two hours after meals and after sitting or reclining for 30 minutes. On waking, after a night's sleep, is ideal.
According to Dr. Vorvick, ranges of average rates for healthy individuals at rest have been compiled.
In newborn infants up to one year old, 100 to 160 bpm is normal. Children between one and 10 years old range from 70 to 120 bpm. After the age of 10, up to adults and seniors, 60 to 100 bpm are considered normal, often centered on 72 as a benchmark for healthy, resting adults.
Some endurance athletes, like marathon runners or cross country skiers, have the lowest normal heart rates. Physiologists at Montana State University report resting heart rates of 28 to 40 bpm. More common rates for most athletes range between the low 40s and low 50s.
Normal athletic heart rates are low because athletes' heart muscles are so strong, a single beat pumps more than a normal amount of blood.
If you are a healthy non-athlete and you want to change your normal cardiac set-point by building your cardiac endurance up to Olympic standards, plan for years of intense endurance training.
The American Heart Association advises starting your exercise program targeting your heart rate at 50 percent of your maximum for the first few weeks. Calculate your maximum as 220, if you are male, or 226 if you are female, minus your age. Work gradually toward 75, 85 and higher percentages. Talk to your doctor about shooting for a sustained 100 percent target.
According to Dr. Carol L. Otis, a sports medicine physician in Oregon, normal heart rates vary according to lifestyle demands. Sedentary work and lifestyles place small exercise demands on your heart. Occupations requiring skill but little movement, like watchmakers, surgeons, or athletes like archers or bowlers, can expect normal heart rates at the higher part of the normal range. Conversely, endurance athletes or heavy physical laborers may push the lower ranges of resting normals.