Heart Health: What’s a Normal Heart Rate, and 4 Ways to Measure It

Your heart rate, also known as your pulse, refers to the number of times your heart beats per minute. While seemingly normal, your heart rate can actually provide an extraordinary amount of insight into your overall health, cardiovascular fitness, stamina and more.

Even if you’re not a serious athlete, knowing your heart rate can help you determine the appropriate intensity level for your workouts and ensure you’re always getting the most out of your workouts. . In addition, knowing and monitoring your heart rate can help you detect current or developing health problems, such as arrhythmia (irregular heart rhythm) or tachycardia (abnormally high heart rate). Here’s what to know.

How to measure different types of heart rate

There are four different heart rate measurements that you should be aware of. They all have some place in monitoring health and fitness, but two of the most important are your resting heart rate and maximum heart rate.

resting heart rate

Your resting heart rate It is the rate at which your heart beats when you are doing nothing. When you’re not exercising or moving around, your heart is pumping the least amount of blood possible to stay alive and fuel your body.

The average resting heart rate is 60 to 80 beats per minute. It varies though: it’s usually lower for people who exercise frequently, and higher for people who are relatively sedentary. The resting heart rate also often increases when you are older, when you are ill and when you are stressed or anxious.

To determine your resting heart rate the old-school way, simply count how many times your heart beats in one minute. Your reading will be more accurate if you measure it in the morning before getting out of bed. To measure your resting heart rate, follow these steps:

  • Choose a location where you can feel your pulse. The best places to locate your pulse are your wrists, the inside of your elbow, the tops of your feet, and the side of your neck, just below your jaw.
  • Place two fingers on the pulse spot, and count the number of beats you feel in 60 seconds.

Use a stopwatch during this process as it is unlikely that you will be able to count both the pulse and the seconds in your head. Counting for the full 60 seconds will give the most accurate results, but you can also count for 30 seconds and then multiply that number by two.

For example, if I count 30 pulses in 30 seconds, I would multiply that by two to get 60 for my resting heart rate.

maximum heart rate

Your maximum heart rate is a measure of the maximum number of beats per minute your heart can beat. Average maximum heart rate varies greatly by age, fitness level, and other factors, such as medical conditions and genetics.

The easiest way to estimate your maximum heart rate is with a simple math calculation. Subtract your age from 220 to get your age-estimated maximum heart rate.

The 220-minus-age formula is the traditional way of measuring maximum heart rate, and it is still widely used. However, that equation is considered incorrect by some scientists, and a modified formula is now often used: 208 minus 0.7 x your age.

Note that neither calculation accounts for your fitness level, genes or other factors. Because of this, the standard deviation is 10 to 20 beats per minute. That is, your actual maximum heart rate may be 10 to 20 beats per minute higher or lower than the difference in these equations.

Read more: Heart-rate variability is the key health metric you need to start tracking

heart rate reserve

Heart rate reserve refers to the difference between your maximum heart rate and your resting heart rate. Heart rate reserve is most commonly used to estimate a person’s ideal training zones – high-level athletes use these zones to optimize their training.

To measure heart rate reserve, follow these steps:

  • Determine your resting heart rate using the method above or use data from an activity tracker or other device (more on those below).
  • Estimate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220.
  • Subtract your resting heart rate from your maximum heart rate to determine your heart rate reserve.

For example, my resting heart rate is 58 beats per minute, which is based on the average. Fitbit Gives me. My max heart rate is 198 (I’m 22, so I used 220 minus 22).

My heart rate reserve — max heart rate minus resting heart rate (198 minus 58) — is 148.

target heart rate

Target heart rate is often used interchangeably with heart rate reserve because they are used for similar purposes, but they are actually different. Your target heart rate is generally defined as 50 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate, and this range is considered the best fat-burning range for exercise.

50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate represents moderate-intensity exercise, and 70 to 85 percent represents vigorous-intensity exercise. To find your target heart rate, simply multiply your maximum heart rate by 0.50 and 0.85.

Example: My maximum heart rate is 198 (based on the 220-minus-age formula).

  • 198 x 0.50 = 99
  • 198 x 0.85 = 168.3

My target heart rate during exercise is between 99 beats per minute and around 170 beats per minute. Keep in mind that ideal training zones vary from person to person.

For example, I know I can consistently exercise at the high end of my target heart rate zone, but I’ve been doing long distance running and CrossFit for years. A beginner should start at the low end of their target heart rate range and increase intensity as their fitness improves.

best devices to measure heart rate

Apple Watch measures your heart rate throughout the day.

Sarah Tew/CNET

So now you know all about the different types of heart rates and how to measure them using watches and maths. Even though the traditional methods aren’t that difficult, there are easier — and potentially more accurate — ways to measure and track your heart rate.

The most accurate reading will come from a laboratory test or other diagnostic method, But since most people don’t have access to those methods and don’t need them, these tools will do just fine.

smartwatch or fitness tracker

smartwatch The most convenient way to measure your heart rate. they relatively cheap, they don’t take up much space and have ample battery life. The best part is that fitness trackers are comfortable enough to wear for long periods of time to get an accurate measurement of your heart rate.

Wearing a Fitbit, Apple Watch, Garmin or other tracker allows you to measure your heart rate at all times of the day: when you sleeping, during normal daily activities and during exercise. They then present this data to you in an easy to digest way. Fitness trackers and smartwatches use optical technology to read the pulse on your wrist. With optical technology, your tracker sends light into your skin and reads the light that bounces back.

apple watch It can even generate a PDF of your heart rate that you can share with your doctor.

chest straps

chest strap heart monitor Probably the most cost-effective way to measure your heart rate — they’re cheaper than smartwatches and other methods. Chest straps work by reading the tiny electrical signals your body sends out when your heart contracts. They tend to be more accurate than smart watches, but they do have some drawbacks.

Chest straps can be uncomfortable because they wrap tightly around your sternum. If they loosen during exercise, they can slip, move out of place, or cause a chafing sound. Chest straps are harder to adjust while in motion, so a faulty strap could spell trouble if you’re in the middle of a marathon or competition.

Additionally, a chest strap doesn’t provide visual feedback during exercise like a smartwatch or fitness tracker, unless you have a Bluetooth-connected tracker elsewhere on your body.

The person checks their heart rate through their smartwatch and fitness app.

Marcella Vieira/Getty Images

smartphone apps

You don’t need to buy any other accessories to measure your heart rate — there are smartphone apps that take advantage of your phone’s camera and flash to give you a reading.

Not all apps provide the most accurate readings, but here are some heart rate apps One who rises above the rest.


One of the newer ways to measure your heart rate is with sports headphones. Many brands now offer Headphones with built-in optical heart rate trackers, Headphones with heart rate monitors are usually more expensive than other types of monitors, but they’re worth it if you need new headphones anyway.

A headphone heart rate monitor is a great option if you want to comfortably and accurately measure your heart rate during exercise. However, it is doubtful that they will be comfortable to sleep in, so it would be difficult to get a picture of your resting heart rate with such a device.

When to see a professional about heart rate

Certain medications or irregularities in your heart rate may warrant a visit to your doctor. For example, many people on beta blockers (to lower blood pressure) are told by their doctor to monitor and log their heart rate. Monitoring your heart rate may be helpful to your doctor when determining dosage or other treatment.

Additionally, tell your doctor right away if your pulse is too low, too high, or alternates between the two frequently. Your pulse is a practical tool in the status of your health and fitness level. Always check with a doctor before starting an exercise program.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider with respect to any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or health objectives.

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