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Does Exercise Lower the Heart Rate?

author image Jim Sloan
Jim Sloan is a writer and editor in Reno, Nevada. He has been a journalist for more than 25 years and is the author of two books, "Staying Fit After Fifty," and "Nevada: True Tales from the Neon Wilderness."
Does Exercise Lower the Heart Rate?
A woman is exercising outside. Photo Credit: AID/a.collectionRF/amana images/Getty Images

Your resting heart rate can tell you a lot. It can reflect your level of fitness, the air temperature, the altitude, how recently you ate and how many cups of coffee you drank this morning. A high resting heart rate can also signal whether you are at risk for atherosclerosis, sudden death or cardiovascular disease. Aerobic exercise, during which you elevate your heart rate by working large muscle groups for a sustained period of time, strengthens your heart, trains it to pump more blood per contraction, and ultimately leads to a slower resting heart rate.

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A More Efficient Heart

Regular exercise often results in a resting heart rate decrease of five to 25 beats per minute, according to exercise scientist Len Kravitz, a University of New Mexico professor. With a slower heart rate, the heart's left ventricle has more time to fill with blood and more time to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the body and heart muscle. As a result, the heart becomes more efficient at meeting your body’s needs for energy and oxygen.

A Range of Heart Rates

The average heart rate for a resting person is between 60 and 80 beats per minute. According to Kravitz, a well-conditioned athlete, such as a professional cyclist or a marathon runner, could have a resting heart rate below 40 beats per minute, and a sedentary, unconditioned adult’s heart rate could exceed 100 beats per minute. A woman’s resting heart rate will average eight to 10 beats per minute higher than a similarly conditioned man.

Taking Your Pulse

The best time to measure your resting rate is upon waking, preferably before you get out of bed but certainly before you have a cup of coffee, the caffeine in which can elevate your heart rate. Check your heart rate by holding your first two fingers on the artery in your neck next to your Adam’s apple and counting how many times it beats in one minute.

The Aerobic Zone

Your resting pulse naturally increases as you get older, but your maximum heart rate decreases. You can estimate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. The best heart rate zone for aerobic exercise is between 50 percent and 75 percent of your maximum heart rate. That means a 40-year-old person would want a heart rate of 90 to 135 beats per minute while exercising. It’s normal for your heart rate to remain slightly elevated for several minutes after a workout.

How Long and How Hard?

To achieve a lower resting heart rate from exercise, you should exercise at least 150 minutes a week in your aerobic zone. If you are just starting an exercise program, slowly build up your exercise time by a little bit each day. You can enjoy great health benefits – and an even lower resting heart rate – by exercising for a longer time or at a more vigorous level, such as at 65 percent to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate.

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