Understanding Heart Rates For Better Health

Heart rates probably aren’t a common topic around the dinner table unless someone is a professional or casual athlete. But for physicians, this metric is a critical tool that aids in determining if a patient is healthy or if underlying problems might exist. Especially for cardiovascular health, people are encouraged to get and stay active. But with increased activity comes a temporarily heightened heart rate. Learning which beats per minute (BPM) ranges are healthy versus dangerous is an essential tool for gauging physical fitness and heart health.

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Resting vs maximum target heart rates

A person’s heart rate will fluctuate based on activity levels, anxiety, and other factors, including eating. Typically, heart rate goals are divided into three categories, resting, target, and maximum. A range is provided for both resting and target heart rates, highlighting the ideal BPM number. The recommended goals can vary by age and if a person lives a sedentary versus active lifestyle.

Defining resting heart rates

As the name implies, a resting heart rate defines how many times the heart beats per minute when resting. Whether just waking up, sitting, or relaxing, this figure should be low, indicating that someone isn’t engaged in strenuous activity that would otherwise create an elevated heart rate. As a general guide, most adults should have a resting heart rate of between 60-100 bpm. Note that very active individuals may have resting rates that are lower than 60 bpm.

The relationship between target and maximum heart rates

A maximum heart rate refers to the highest possible heart rate a person can experience when engaged in very intense exercise. A simple calculation for determining this figure is to subtract an individual’s age from the number 220. So, if a 40-year-old person participated in a strenuous workout, the maximum heart rate would be 180. However, achieving maximum heart rate isn’t the goal. Instead, people should aim for roughly 64%-76% of the maximum heart rate. This figure is the target heart rate and varies by age

Using heart rates in the real world

Thanks to the invention of fitness trackers and smartwatches, tracking heart health has never been easier. These devices shouldn’t be used to replace medical care or advice. Target heart rate zones are an effective metric for understanding if an individual is exercising too hard or not enough. If a person’s heart rate is too high during exercise, consider reducing the intensity to get closer to the target goals. Conversely, never reaching the target heart rate zone could signify that someone isn’t exerting enough energy during exercise.

Prioritizing heart health

All organs are important, but most people would agree that the heart is one of the most vital ones in the body. Maintaining good heart health is about more than simply taking a pulse throughout the day. Engaging in moderate exercise and aiming for 30-minute moderate-intensity cardio sessions 5 times per week can ensure that people reach target heart rates. Individuals with resting or active heart rates outside of the recommended ranges should speak with a physician to determine if an underlying condition or behaviors could be a contributing factor.