Your pulse rate measures the number of times your heart beats each minute as it pumps blood throughout the body. The circulation of blood maintains life by bringing necessary oxygen to the brain and other organs. Each time the heart beats, you can feel the surge of blood in your arteries at pulse points, which include the wrist, throat, inside of the elbow and back of the knee. The pulse rate is an indicator of heart health.
Normal Pulse Rate
For most healthy adults, including seniors, a normal resting heart rate is between 60 and 80 beats per minute. In general, women have slightly higher heart rates than men. Professional athletes may have healthy resting heart rates as low as 35, a number that would cause serious concern for the average adult. As you age, your heart rate may slow. It may take longer for your heart rate to speed up during exercise, and longer for it to slow down after physical exertion.
Resting Heart Rate (RHR)
Knowing your resting heart rate (RHR) gives you and your doctor a baseline to measure changes. BMJ-British Medical Journal reported on Feb. 9, 2009, that the resting heart rate can predict coronary events in postmenopausal women. Over the nearly eight years of the study, women with a resting heart rate of over 76 beats per minute experienced significantly more heart attacks than women with a heart rate below 62 beats per minute.
Taking Your Pulse
To accurately determine your RHR, take your pulse before you get out of bed in the morning. Most people find it easiest to find the pulse at the inside of the wrist. Gently press the pads of your index and middle fingers on the pulse point. Using a watch with a second hand, count the beats for 60 seconds. Repeat for three days. Add the three numbers together and divide by three. The resulting number is your average RHR.
Factors Affecting Pulse Rate
Regular exercise makes the heart muscle stronger, which results in a lower resting heart rate. During and immediately after exercise, your heart will work harder and the pulse rate will increase. Anxiety, stress, emotional excitement and depression may raise your pulse rate. Being overweight stresses the heart and raises the RHR. Of particular concern for seniors is keeping track of medications that raise or lower the heart rate. Meditation, deep breathing and relaxation techniques may lower the RHR.
A faster-than-normal heart rate is called tachycardia, while a slower than normal rate is known as brachycardia. Taking your pulse may also reveal irregularities in the heartbeat. This is a condition known as arrhythmia. Your doctor or cardiologist has the skills and technology to evaluate any abnormalities you detect in your heart rate, and to properly assess your condition in light of your lifestyle, weight, overall fitness, underlying medical conditions and medications.