"Systolic" refers to a contraction of the heart. Systolic blood pressure measures the maximum arterial pressure during a contraction of the left ventricle. The moment of this ventricular contraction is called systole. When you measure your systolic heart rate, you are simply measuring the number of contractions of the heart during a period of time, usually a minute. Everyone's heart rate varies depending on their activity level. Resting heart rate, the number of times your heart beats in a minute, is the most common heart rate number looked at. It can be used to determine your fitness level and degree of fatigue. Monitoring your heart rate during exercise can also help you gauge your exertion level.
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Finding Your Resting Heart Rate
To determine your true resting heart rate, it should be taken first thing in the morning before leaving bed. Have a watch or clock with a second hand next to your bed so that it can be used upon waking up.
As soon as you awake in the morning, use two fingers to find your pulse either on your wrist or on the carotid artery in the neck. Over exactly 30 seconds, count the number of pulses your fingers feel.
Multiply this number by 2. This is your resting heart rate, or how many times your heart beats in a minute. This systolic heart rate reflects how many times your heart contracted in 60 seconds.
Most people have a resting heart rate of 60 to 80 beats a minute. Some endurance athletes have rates as low as 50, with a rare individual even lower. If your resting heart rate is above 80, you probably want to check this with a medical professional.
Active Heart Rate
Your heart rate is going to change dramatically during the day depending on activity level. So you might also want to measure your heart rate when exercising. To take your heart rate while exercising, follow steps 2 and 3 above except only count your pulse for 15 seconds and then multiply by 4. An alternative is to wear a heart rate monitor when you exercise.
Most people should exercise at 50 to 85 percent of their maximum heart rate. This is called target heart rate. To estimate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220.
Another good estimate of your fitness level is your recovery heart rate, or how quickly your heart rate lowers after exertion. To determine this, once you have finished exercising, take your heart rate for 15 seconds and multiply the number by 4. Two minutes later repeat this. Subtract the second number from the first. If this number is between 22 and 52, you are in the average range. Less then 22 indicates your heart is out of shape, while more than 52 indicates a better-than-average fitness level.