Knowing your baseline heart rate, or the number of times your heart beats per minute while at rest, can help you evaluate and monitor your cardiovascular health. Factors such as emotional state, body temperature, hormone levels, stress and activity levels can affect your baseline and cause a low or high pulse rate.
For these reasons, the American Heart Association recommends checking your heart rate by taking your pulse in the morning right after awakening. This measure, known as your resting heart rate, will let you determine a "baseline" heart rate to use when assessing your heart health and calculating your target and maximum heart rates during exercise.
Determine Your Heart Rate
You can check your heart rate in four quick, easy steps:
- Place the tips of two or three fingers gently against the underside of your opposite wrist. An ideal spot is just below the wrist joint on the side closest to your thumb.
- Press gently and move your fingertips carefully until you can feel the blood flowing in the vessels beneath your skin.
- Count the number of beats, or pulses, you feel during 10 seconds. Use a watch or clock that measures seconds to ensure the timing of your count is accurate.
- Multiply the number of beats you counted by six. This is your resting pulse, or baseline heart rate, which is measured in beats per minute.
Another option for this calculation is to count the number of heartbeats in six seconds and multiply the result by 10. If you do so, be sure to check your pulse several times for a more accurate measurement. If you prefer to avoid any calculations, you can count the number of beats for a full 60 seconds.
- If you have trouble feeling your pulse in your wrist, you can place two fingertips gently against the side of your throat to feel for the blood vessels in your neck.
- Find your baseline levels of heart rate by checking your pulse while you are at rest for one full minute. You can also count the beats for 10 seconds and multiply this number by six.
- For a more accurate measurement, consider checking your pulse two or three times and averaging the results.
Factors That Affect Heart Rate
According to the American Heart Association, a resting heart rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute is considered normal for most adults, while athletes may have a heart rate as low as 40 to 60 beats per minute. If your baseline heart rate falls outside this range or is close to doing so, consult a physician as soon as possible to assess your cardiovascular health.
Medications such as beta blockers and thyroid medications may cause a low or high pulse rate respectively. If you are on these medications and you have an abnormal resting heart rate, consult your doctor as your dosage may need to be adjusted. Emotional distress, obesity and warmer air temperatures may also cause your resting heart rate to increase.
If you experience a fast pulse rate while at rest, consult your doctor immediately, especially if you are also experiencing any weakness, dizziness or light-headedness.
- American Heart Association: "Know Your Target Heart Rates for Exercise, Losing Weight and Health"
- American Heart Association: "All About Heart Rate (Pulse)"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Pulse and Target Heart Rate"
- American Heart Association: Heart and Stroke Encyclopedia
- Cleveland Clinic: Women and Abnormal Heart Beats
- Cleveland Clinic: Simple Clues to Your Heart