Your pulse rate — which is also your heart rate — can tell a lot about your heart health and fitness. When you're resting or reclining, your heart is pumping the lowest amount of oxygen your body needs. That is your resting heart rate, says Harvard Health Publishing.
Read more: What Does Cardiovascular Fitness Mean?
Effect of Body Position on Heart Rate
"A normal resting heart rate can be between 60 and 100 beats per minute," says Peter Santucci, MD, professor of cardiology at Maywood, Illinois-based Loyola University Medical Center. "This rate can vary slightly with body position changes. Most notably, when you go from reclining to standing. Your heart rate may go up by 10 to 15 beats per minute."
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), after you go from a reclining or sitting position to a standing position, the increase in your pulse should settle back down after about 15 to 20 seconds. The AHA notes that body position is not the only thing that affects your resting heart rate. Other factors include:
- Higher air temperature and humidity, which can make your heart work harder and increase heart rate.
- Emotions like stress or anxiety, which increase heart rate.
- Body size, especially obesity, which can increase the work of your heart and your heart rate.
- Medications, which can both slow or raise heart rate.
Even though your reclining or resting heart rate can be normal between 60 and 100 beats per minute, very active people can have a resting heart rate as low as 40 and still be considered normal, the AHA says. Also, as explained by Harvard Health, some studies suggest that although a resting heart rate of up to 100 may be normal, a resting heart rate above 80 may indicate a higher risk for heart disease.
What About Heart Rate During Exercise?
When you're active, your body position is changing constantly, so your heart has to beat faster to keep all your muscles supplied with oxygen. This creates the opposite of your resting heart rate, which is your maximum heart rate. If your average maximum heart rate is too high, it means that your heart is working too hard during exercise, Harvard Health points out.
Vigorous exercise is a good way to lower both your resting heart rate and your maximum heart rate.
"Although your resting heart rate is not much affected by your age, the normal range for your maximum heart rate does change with age," Dr. Santucci says. "To find out what your average rate should be during exercise, subtract your age from 220. A target rate for moderate exercise is 50 to 70 percent of maximum, and for vigorous exercise, 70 to 85 percent of maximum. This may vary for some individuals."
The AHA says to measure the effects of exercise, take your pulse before, during and after exercise. The harder you exercise, the quicker you will reach your maximum heart rate. When you rest after exercise, your heart rate will start to come down. The quicker your heart rate returns to your resting rate, the better your physical fitness.
As your body moves during exercise, your blood vessels open up to get more blood to your muscles. Some people may worry that exercising to reach maximum heart rate may dangerously increase blood pressure. According to AHA, this is not the case. A rising heart rate does not increase blood pressure at the same rate. In fact, you may double your heart rate during exercise while only slightly increasing your blood pressure.
When to Call Your Doctor
According to the AHA, you should let your doctor know if your resting heart rate is very low or very high, especially if you have symptoms like weakness, dizziness or a fainting spell.
"If you have an occasional resting heart rate outside the normal range, and you don't have symptoms, it is probably not significant," Dr. Santucci says. "However, if your heart rate is frequently below 50 or above 110, best to let your doctor know."
Read more: Heart Rate, Exercise & Age