The heart rate measures the number of times per minute that the heart contracts or beats. For most adults, a target resting heart rate is between 60–100 beats per minute.

A healthy heart supplies the body with just the right amount of blood at the right rate for whatever the body is doing at that time. For example, being frightened or surprised automatically releases adrenaline, a hormone, to make the heart rate faster. This prepares the body to use more oxygen and energy to escape or confront potential danger.

A resting heart rate refers to the number of times the heart beats per minute when at rest. However, age, activity levels, physical fitness, and other factors can affect a person’s resting heart rate.

While a normal heart rate does not guarantee that a person is free of health problems, it is a useful benchmark for identifying a range of health issues.

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The heart rate is the number of times the heart beats in the space of a minute.

The pulse is often confused with the heart rate but refers instead to how many times per minute the arteries expand and contract in response to the pumping action of the heart. The pulse rate is exactly equal to the heartbeat, as the contractions of the heart cause the increases in blood pressure in the arteries that lead to a noticeable pulse.

Taking the pulse is, therefore, a direct measure of heart rate.

It is important to identify whether a person’s heart rate sits within the normal range. If disease or injury weakens the heart, the organs will not receive enough blood to function normally.

The heart rate gets progressively slower as a person moves through childhood toward adolescence. The normal resting heart rate for adults over the age of 10 years, including older adults, is between 60–100 beats per minute (bpm).

Highly trained athletes may have a resting heart rate below 60 bpm, sometimes reaching 40 bpm.

Read on to learn more about athletes and low resting heart rates.

The following is a table of normal resting heart rates at different ages:

AgeNormal heart rate (bpm)
Infants under 1 year100–180
From 1–2 years98–140
From 3–5 years80–120
From 6–7 years75–118
Older children, teens, and adults60–100

The resting heart rate can vary within this normal range. It will increase in response to a variety of changes, including exercise, body temperature, emotional triggers, and body position, such as for a short while after standing up quickly.

A person’s heart rate increases during exercise, as the heart beats more to pump more blood and oxygen throughout the body. However, when training for fitness, it is important not to put too much strain on the heart.

While the heart rate increases as a result of physical activity, an overall decrease in target heart rate is possible over time. This is because exercise strengthens the heart muscle. Due to this, the heart can pump a great volume of blood with each heartbeat, meaning it can beat less to get the necessary nutrients and oxygen to different parts of the body, making it more efficient.

Cardiovascular training aims to reduce the target heart rate. The ideal target heart rate reduces with age. It is also worth noting the maximum heart rate. This demonstrates the full capability of the heart, and it is normally reached through high-intensity exercise.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that the maximum heart rate during exercise should be roughly equal to 220 bpm minus the age of the person. For example, for a 50-year-old person, a maximum heart rate calculation would be 220 – 50 years = 170 bpm.

As the body of each individual will react to exercise differently, the target heart rate is presented as a range known as the target heart rate zone.

The following table shows the appropriate target heart rate zone for a range of ages. A person’s heart rate should fall within this range when exercising at 50–85% intensity, also known as exertion.

Age (years)Target heart rate zone at 50–85% exertion (bpm)Average maximum heart rate at 100% exertion (bpm)

It is recommended that people exercise regularly to work towards a healthy target heart rate. The CDC recommend the following amounts and levels of exercise per week:

ExerciseExampleRegularityTotal minutes per week
Moderate intensity aerobic activityBrisk walking, aerobics class5 days per weekOver 150
Vigorous aerobic activityJogging, running, step-aerobics3 days per weekOver 75
An equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activityCombination of walking and running2 or more days per weekN/A

In addition to aerobic activity, it is also advisable to add in muscle-strengthening activities. On 2 or more days a week a person can include exercises that work all major muscle groups, such as the legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms.

Read on to learn more about building muscle with exercise.

The speed of the heart is not the only factor to bear in mind when considering its health. The rhythm of the heartbeat is important too. The heart should beat with a steady rhythm, and there should be a regular gap between beats.

The muscle has an electrical system that tells it when to beat and push blood around the body. A faulty electrical system can lead to an abnormal heart rhythm, known as arrhythmia.

It is normal for the heart rate to vary throughout the day in response to exercise, anxiety, excitement, and fear. However, a person should not normally be aware of their resting heartbeat.

People concerned about palpitations or ectopic beats should speak to your doctor who will be able to carry out an electrocardiogram (ECG) to assess the heart rate and the rhythm.

There are many different types of abnormal heart rhythm. The type depends on where in the heart the abnormal rhythm starts, and whether it causes the heart to beat too fast or too slow.

If a person feels that their heart is beating out of rhythm, too fast, or too slow, it is advisable to contact a doctor about these symptoms. A person may also feel the sensation of having missed or “skipped” a beat, or it may feel like there has been an extra beat.

A healthy heartbeat is crucial for protecting cardiac health.

While exercise is important for promoting a low and healthy heart rate, there are several other steps a person can take to protect their heart health, including:

  • Reducing stress: Stress can contribute to an increased heart rate and blood pressure. Ways to keep stress at bay include deep breathing, yoga, mindfulness training, and meditation.
  • Avoiding tobacco: Smoking leads to a higher heart rate, and quitting can reduce it to a normal level.
  • Losing weight: More body weight means that the heart has to work harder to provide all areas of the body with oxygen and nutrients.

The following are answers to commonly asked questions about heart rate.

What’s an unhealthy heart rate?

The typical resting heart rate for adults is between 60–100 beats per minute (bpm). Some athletes and older individuals have slightly lower heart rates.

An “unhealthy” heart rate is one that is too fast or too slow. A person may also have an arrhythmia, which is an irregular heartbeat.

Is 120 heart rate normal?

While 120 bpm is slightly above the typical 60–100 bpm range, it may be healthy for some people. If a person is concerned that their heart rate is too high, they should contact a doctor.

Heart rate describes the number of times the heart beats in the space of a minute. For most adults, the target range for a resting heart rate is 60–100 bpm.

To help maintain a healthy heart rate and to protect the heart, it is advisable for a person to get regular exercise, have a healthy dietary plan, manage stress, maintain a healthy weight, and avoid or quit smoking.

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