The term "heart rate" refers to the number of times your heart beats per minute. As the heart muscle pumps blood out to the body, it first contracts to push the blood out and then relaxes. Your heart rate measures how many times per minute the heart contracts. The average healthy heart rate is around 70 to 80 beats per minute. It can go as low as 40 to 60 in athletes. Taking your heart rate can be a good indication of your overall heart health.
To find your heart rate, you need to take your pulse. When the heart pumps blood through the body, you can feel a pulsing in some of the blood vessels close to the surface of the skin. The most effective places to take your pulse are in the wrist and neck. You can also have another trained person take your pulse. This can be done at a physical therapy center, gym or health club by a trained therapist or exercise physiologist. Your heart rate will also be measured during a stress test that is administered by a cardiologist. In all of the above examples, your pulse or heart rate is measured by counting the number of times you feel your pulse for 1 minute.
There are also heart rate monitors on the market. These devices are strapped around your wrist or chest and take the measurement for you.
There are several categories of heart rate numbers, and paying attention to your heart rate can provide you with signals if you are beginning to have heart disease. The earlier you catch heart disease, the better your chances are of preventing a heart attack or stroke.
There is the target heart rate--which is the rate to which you want to raise your pulse in order to make your workout effective. There is a resting heart rate, which refers to how hard your heart works while doing everyday activities or when you first get up in the morning. Last is the recovery heart rate. This is a measurement that is taken after you have been exercising at your target heart rate. Measuring your recovery heart rate tests your heart's ability to return to your normal resting heart rate after you reach your target heart rate. The more efficient and healthy your heart is, the quicker you return to your resting heart rate will be. In contrast, if your heart takes longer to recover, it may signal heart trouble.
To find your recovery heart rate, first take and record your pre-exercise heart rate. Then exercise on a bike or treadmill or go up and down on a aerobic step for a given period of time. In simple tests, you will exercise for about 1 minute. In a more formal stress test, you would work out on a bicycle or treadmill until you are too tired to continue. There are many different types of tests available that fall in between these two. Your heart rate will be monitored during your exercise session. After you stop exercising, you will sit and take your heart rate to see how high it was elevated. You then take your recovery heart rate every 15 seconds for the first minute, then once every minute until it returns to your pre-exercise level. This is your recovery heart rate: the amount of time it took for your heart to recover from exercise. Again, there are some differing opinions as to how often to take your pulse.
If you are fit and in good shape, your heart rate should recover quickly. Your heart rate should return to pre-exercise level within 10 to 15 minutes after exercise. Normal heart rate recovery is defined as a decrease in your pulse of 15 to 25 beats per minute. Abnormal heart rate recovery is usually defined as a decrease of 12 or fewer beats per minute. If your recovery heart rate falls in the abnormal category, it could simply mean that you are out of shape and deconditioned, or it could be a sign of a more serious heart condition. While a general recovery heart rate test can be done on your own or in a gym, you should have a formal stress test administered by a cardiologist if you are over 40, have a family history of heart disease or experience shortness of breath, chest pain, discomfort or dizziness during exercise . Since heart disease can occur without symptoms, it is essential to have the proper medical tests to keep your heart healthy and strong.