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Despite being the center of one of the most crucial bodily systems, many people don’t know much about their heart or how it works. Resting heart rate is the rhythm of oxygen flowing through your body while you are less active. This includes activities, such as sleeping, sitting at your desk in an office, or just watching television at home. Symptoms of a high resting heart rate include low energy levels, low blood pressure, reduced blood circulation, and discomfort while breathing.
Having a lower resting heart rate means that you are at less risk of heart disease, because it takes your heart less energy to maintain a rhythm, allowing your body to better take of care itself.
Ever wonder why athletes have lower heart rates than their non-athletic counterparts? Well, according to the American Heart Association, athletes having a lower heart rate is common because “their heart muscle is in better condition and doesn’t need to work as hard to maintain a steady beat.” Essentially, since they outwork you in the gym or their sport of choice, they have a clear edge. So, how low can an athlete’s heart rate go? As low as 40 beats per minute (BPM). Impressive … not to mention, motivation for all you non-athletes to move and get your heart health in better shape. There’s also evidence that a lower resting pulse rate can lead to a longer life.
If Muscle & Fitness put you on the spot and asked how to measure your heart rate, would you know? Measuring your heart rate essentially begins with taking your pulse. Make sure you’re calm, relaxed, and have been still for quite some time, before placing your index and middle fingers on the side of your windpipe, pressed directly under your jawbone. Or place your index and middle fingers on the inside of your opposite wrist beneath your thumb. According to the Mayo Clinic, this is where the number crunching begins. Count the number of beats in 15 seconds. Now multiply that number by four to get your beats per minute.
As simple as measuring your heart rate is, factors—age, health history, emotional state at the time, medications, overall fitness level, and whether you’re a smoker—can influence it as well. If you don’t want to measure your heart rate yourself, you can also opt to rely on a Fitbit activity tracker, which uses its trademarked PurePulse Technology to track your continuous heart rate automatically, right from the comfort of your wrist. There are also several apps available that measure your heart rate as well.
Adults with a low heart rate may be diagnosed with Bradycardia—when your heart rate is less than 60 beats per minute (BPM), not as a result of physical fitness. A lower heart rate means your brain and other organs aren’t getting a sufficient supply of oxygen and your body will let you know that via a number of ways, including near-fainting or fainting, dizziness, shortness of breath, and chest pains to name a few. The Mayo Clinic says people should seek emergency care if they experience chest pain for more than a few minutes. These people might eventually need a pacemaker. Left untreated, a lower-than-average heart rate could result in regular fainting; heart failure, which occurs when your heart doesn’t pump enough blood; or sudden cardiac arrest or death.
The opposite of Bradycardia is Tachycardia, which is when an adult experiences upwards of 100 BPM. Like people with Bradycardia, adults with rapid heart rates might experience fainting or dizziness. Unlike them, however, they might experience a rapid heartbeat, palpitations or a sensation of fluttering in the chest. In addition, they might experience a tightness of the chest or chest pain, as reported by the AHA. The Mayo Clinic adds that if these symptoms are left untreated that “Tachycardia can disrupt normal heart function and lead to serious complications, including heart failure, stroke, sudden cardiac arrest or death.”
The average heart rate should be between 60 BPM and 100 BPM for adults who are sitting or laying down still and not ill at the time of measuring.