Heart rate refers to the number of heartbeats a person has per minute, also known as a pulse. Having a lower resting heart rate can signal good health.

This article will explain how to measure a person’s resting heart rate. It will also discuss the ideal range for someone’s heart rate, explain what causes differences in heart rate, and provide tips to lower the heart rate immediately and in the long term.

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A person’s heart rate may suddenly spike in response to factors such as emotional stress or things in their environment. Addressing these causes is the best way to reduce the heart rate in these situations.

Ways to reduce sudden changes in heart rate include:

  • practicing deep or guided breathing techniques, such as box breathing
  • relaxing and trying to remain calm
  • going for a walk, ideally away from an urban environment
  • taking a warm, relaxing bath or shower
  • practicing stretching and relaxation exercises, such as yoga
  • performing vagal maneuvers

It is also possible for people to lower their heart rate in the long term. Many lifestyle habits can contribute to this. This can affect the heart rate during physical activity or periods of stress.

Some factors that may lower a person’s heart rate include:

Exercising

The easiest and most effective way to achieve a lasting lower heart rate is to do regular exercise. For example, a 2018 meta-analysis found that regular exercise could consistently lower resting heart rate. Although any kind of exercise can be helpful, the authors suggest that yoga and endurance training may be the most beneficial.

Staying hydrated

When the body is dehydrated, the heart has to work harder to stabilize blood flow. A 2017 study found that a 335-milliliter drink of water could reduce resting heart rate over a 30-minute period. This decline continued for another 30 minutes. Drinking plenty of beverages throughout the day could lower a person’s heart rate.

Limiting intake of stimulants

Stimulants can cause dehydration, increasing the heart’s workload. For example, there is evidence that high doses of caffeine can lead to dehydration. However, there is no reliable scientific evidence that typical tea or coffee consumption can cause an increased resting heart rate through dehydration.

Limiting alcohol intake

There is evidence that drinking alcohol could cause dehydration, although more research is still necessary on this topic. However, it remains possible that alcohol consumption could increase resting heart rate.

Alcohol is also a toxin, and the body must work harder to process and remove it. This may sometimes result in heart rate increases.

Eating a nutritious, balanced diet

Eating a healthful diet can improve heart health and functioning. This diet should be rich in fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.

Foods and supplements rich in antioxidants and healthy fats may lower blood pressure, making it easier for the heart to pump blood.

For example, a 2021 study concluded that the antioxidant alpha-lipoic acid effectively lowers blood pressure. Potassium-rich foods also lower blood pressure by reducing sodium load.

Scientists know that a wide variety of foods may promote good heart health. Heart-healthy nutrients include:

Getting enough sleep

A chronic lack of sleep puts stress on the whole body, including the heart. A 2020 study found that when people deviate from their usual bedtimes, it increases their resting heart rates.

Maintaining a healthy body weight

Extra weight also puts stress on the body and heart. It is possible that this could lead to an increased heart rate. For example, extra weight could make exercise more challenging.

However, scientific evidence suggests that body weight is a poor predictor of heart rate.

Reducing or resolving sources of substantial long-term stress

Stress from work, caring for a loved one, or financial burdens all cause the heart and body to work harder to maintain its usual rhythm. For example, a 2018 review concluded that work-related stress is an important risk factor for coronary heart disease.

Seeking counseling or psychological service

People cannot always resolve stressful situations and life events on their own. Traumatic experiences, grief, and certain mental health conditions stress the body, making it harder for people to cope with everyday activities. In these cases, counseling and therapy may be helpful.

Getting outdoors

Some techniques for lowering heart rate can involve changing environments. For example, research in 2018 shows that spending time in less urbanized settings can reduce the physical and psychological measures of stress. This could be as simple as a trip to the local park.

Practicing relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques may also have a positive effect on stress. However, a 2019 meta-analysis noted that many studies on this topic have been of poor quality. The authors still highlight the possibility that meditation could improve psychological well-being but that more research is necessary on the topic.

A lower heart rate allows the heart to maintain a healthful rhythm and efficiently respond to stressors. A paper from 2015 suggests that high heart rates may contribute to health risks, including:

  • increased blood pressure
  • changes to protein activity in the heart
  • changes to calcium usage by heart cells
  • inflammation and oxidative stress
  • blood vessel dysfunction

Research in 2021 suggests that people with persistent higher heart rates are at a greater risk of certain health conditions that include:

The heart rate varies. Many factors contribute to a changing heart rate, including:

  • physical activity
  • time of day
  • age
  • weather
  • hormonal changes
  • emotional stress

A healthy resting heart rate will vary from person to person. For most people, a target resting heart rate should be between 60–100 beats per minute (bpm).

A person can calculate their maximum heart rate by subtracting their age in years from 220. A healthful heart rate range is usually 50–70% of this maximum during moderate exercise.

During strenuous activity, the healthful range will be 70–85% of the maximum heart rate.

Average heart rate ranges during activity are:

Age in yearsTarget heart rateAverage maximum heart rate
20100–170 bpm200 bpm
3095–162 bpm190 bpm
4093–157 bpm185 bpm
4590–153 bpm175 bpm
5088–149 bpm170 bpm
5585–145 bpm165 bpm
6083–140 bpm160 bpm
6580–136 bpm155 bpm
7075–128 bpm150 bpm

An easy way to check the pulse is by placing the index and middle finger side-by-side on the neck, below the edge of the jawbone, and then counting how many heartbeats occur within 60 seconds.

It is best to measure the pulse after periods of rest. For this reason, a person should ideally count their heartbeats first thing in the morning before getting out of bed.

As a 2021 review explains, each heartbeat arises from specialized muscle cells called myocytes. When these cells need more oxygen, the brain sends messages to the heart that strengthen the myocytes and cause more frequent pulses.

A 2019 study highlights several health conditions that make people likelier to have a higher heart rate, such as:

An elevated heart rate is typically a natural physical response to environmental or other stressors. However, a resting heart rate that is high for long periods can signal an underlying medical condition.

If someone’s average heart rate is unusually high because of an underlying medical condition, medical interventions may be necessary. As a 2021 review explains, beta-blockers have the power to reduce heart rate. Doctors may prescribe beta-blockers to treat a variety of conditions, such as:

  • high blood pressure
  • heart attacks
  • coronary artery disease
  • glaucoma
  • congestive heart failure
  • arrhythmias

In some circumstances, it is necessary to contact a doctor about a higher heart rate. These include if:

  • There is no obvious cause for the increased heart rate.
  • The increased heart rate is accompanied by other changes, such as shortness of breath, chest pain, blurry vision, or faintness.
  • The increased heart rate continues for long periods, even while at rest.

A doctor should evaluate the thyroid, electrolytes, and blood counts. They may want to do other tests before they decide that a high heart rate is no cause for concern. That’s why it is always a good idea to contact a physician if a person meets any of these criteria.

Changes in heart rate happen naturally throughout the day. Resting heart rate is a sign of the heart’s health.

A consistently high heart rate may indicate health issues and could lead to negative outcomes.

However, many people are able to lower their resting heart rate through lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly.