The heart rate is one of our vital signs - it is the number of times a minute that our heart contracts or beats.1
- Heart rate varies - we have a resting heart rate, which does exactly what it says on the tin: it is the rate at which our heart beats when we are relaxed.
- Our heart rate goes up with exertion - the purpose of which is to deliver more oxygen and energy for the activity.
The heart rate shoots up dramatically in response to adrenaline, preparing us for a "fight or flight" reaction.
Adrenaline is a hormone, also known as epinephrine.2
Being frightened or surprised automatically makes the heart rate higher via adrenaline, preparing us to use more oxygen and energy in the fight or flight reaction.2
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Fast facts on heart and pulse rate
Here are some key points about heart and pulse rate. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- Your heart rate is the number of times per minute that the heart beats.
- Heart rate rises significantly in response to adrenaline if a person is frightened or surprised.
- Taking a person's pulse is a direct measure of heart rate.
- A normal adult resting heart beat is between 60-100 heartbeats per minute.
- Some experienced athletes may see their resting heartrate fall below 60 beats per minute.
- Tachycardia refers to the heart beating too fast at rest - over 100 beats per minute.
- Bradycardia refers to the heart beating too slow - usually below 60 beats per minute.
- According to the American Heart Association, heart rate during exercise is around 220 minus the person's age.
Your heart rate
Your heart is a muscular organ in the centre of your chest. Its job is to pump blood, and therefore oxygen and nutrients, around the body, and bring waste products back again.
You can check your pulse by counting how many times your heart beats in a minute. This is also known as your heart rate.
Often cited as the most important body organ, the heart is central to life and health, and without the heart's pumping action, blood cannot move throughout your body.
A healthy heart supplies your body with just the right amount of blood at the right rate for whatever the body is doing. If disease or injury weakens the heart, the body's organs will not receive enough blood to work normally.
When your heart pumps blood through your arteries, it creates a pulse that you can feel in the arteries close to the skin's surface.
Heart rates increase in response to the body needing more oxygen or nutrients e.g., when exercising, or when you may need it to run for your life when being chased by a lion (the fight or flight response)!
What is the difference between heart rate and pulse?
The pulse is how many times a minute that our arteries expand and contract in response to the heart.
This pulse rate is exactly equal to the heartbeat, the rate of heart contractions, because these heart contractions cause the increases in blood pressure and the pulse in the arteries.1
Taking the pulse, therefore, is a direct measure of heart rate.1
It is quick and easy to check the pulse and MNT has a straightforward guide on finding a pulse and using it to record a heart rate.
On the next page we look at the US National Institutes of Health's list of normal resting heart rates and some target heart rates for training purposes. On the final page we discuss abnormal heart rhythms, high resting heart rates, the effects that exercise has on heart rate and we examine how the heart keeps beating.