Your heart's ability to return to normal levels after physical activity is a good indicator of fitness. A healthy heart will recover quickly in the first three minutes after stopping exercise.
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Being out of shape or having certain health conditions can result in a higher heart rate after exercise. You can improve your recovery heart rate by becoming fitter. If a health condition is to blame, ask your doctor for her recommendation.
First Minute of Recovery
The first minute of recovery is the most crucial. After exercise, your heart rate experiences an abrupt drop during the first minute. According to Berkeley Wellness, your heart rate should drop at least 12 beats in the first minute after ceasing activity. Any less than that is abnormal and indicates a lack of fitness or a more serious problem such as cardiovascular disease.
In a study published in Cardiology Journal in 2011, heart rate recovery was defined as the difference between the peak heart rate during exercise and the heart rate one minute after exercise. The lowest normal value for the purposes of that study was 18.
The heart rate two minutes after exercise is often referred to as the recovery heart rate. This is the most common measurement in determining cardiovascular fitness. To test for improvements, record the highest working heart rate during exercise, then record recovery heart rate at the two-minute mark.
Subtract the two-minute recovery rate from the working heart rate to determine a baseline for improvement. For example, if working levels were 150 beats per minute and the two-minute recovery rate was 95, then 55 is the recovery heart rate.
After the first minute of recovery, heart rate declines into what's called the resting plateau. During this phase, heart rate declines more slowly to pre-workout levels over a 60-minute period. As your heart becomes more fit, you can reach pre-workout levels in a shorter amount of time.
Read more: Average Heart Rate for Athletes
Measuring Resting Heart Rate
Go out for some vigorous exercise. A bike ride, jog or using an elliptical machine at the gym will suffice. Get your heart rate up to about 60 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate, which you can estimate by subtracting your age from 220.
Once you've reached that level, stop and immediately take your pulse using your index and middle finger on the carotid artery in your neck or the radial artery on the inside of your wrist. Using a stopwatch, count the number of beats in 20 seconds, then multiply by three. Make note of that number.
Remain still, either seated or standing, and take your pulse again 60 seconds later. You don't need this number to determine heart rate recovery, but it is important to know for purposes of assessing markers of physical fitness.
At 2 minutes, take your pulse again. Subtract this number from your peak heart rate during exercise to find your recovery heart rate.
Knowing Where You Stand
A healthy recovery heart rate depends on many factors, including your age, gender, diet and hydration. Men's heart rates are typically lower than women's. If you had caffeine before exercise or you didn't drink enough fluids, that can affect your heart rate. In general, according to Berkeley Wellness, a healthy drop in heart rate is around 20 beats per minute following exercise.
Read more: What Causes a Fast Resting Heart Rate?