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Heart rate refers to the number of heartbeats a person has per minute. It is also commonly called the pulse. Having a lower resting heart rate is usually a sign of good health.
In this article, learn how to measure the resting heart rate. We also discuss the ideal range, and how to lower the heart rate immediately and in the long term.
The easiest 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. Count how many heartbeats occur in 60 seconds. Some people can also feel their pulses on the inside of their wrists.
It may be easier to count the number of heartbeats that occur in 30 seconds, then multiply the result by 2.
It is best to measure the pulse after periods of prolonged rest. A person should ideally count their heartbeats first thing in the morning, still lying in bed.
A lower heart rate allows the heart to maintain a healthful rhythm and respond to routine stressors efficiently. These may include exercise, illness, and day-to-day activities.
Having a relatively low heart rate is a significant contribution to overall health. An abnormally high heart rate can lead to a variety of health risks and conditions.
Complications associated with a high heart rate include:
- low energy levels
- low physical fitness
- chest pain or discomfort
- difficulty or discomfort breathing
- reduced blood circulation, especially to the hands and feet
- low blood pressure
- lightheadedness, dizziness, and fainting
- blood clots
- heart failure, heart attack, or stroke
The heart rate varies. Many factors contribute to a changing heart rate, including:
- physical activity
- time of day
- hormonal changes or fluctuations
- emotional stress
A healthy resting heart rate will vary from person to person. For most people, however, a target resting heart rate is between 60 and 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 percent of this maximum during moderate exercise.
During strenuous activity, the healthful range will be 70–85 percent of the maximum heart rate.
Average heart rate ranges are:
|Age in years||Target heart rate||Average maximum heart rate|
|20||100–170 bpm||200 bpm|
|30||95–162 bpm||190 bpm|
|40||93–157 bpm||185 bpm|
|45||90–153 bpm||175 bpm|
|50||88–149 bpm||170 bpm|
|55||85–145 bpm||165 bpm|
|60||83–140 bpm||160 bpm|
|65||80–136 bpm||155 bpm|
|70||75–128 bpm||150 bpm|
If the heart rate is suddenly spiking in response to issues such as emotional stress or environmental factors, addressing the cause is the best way to reduce the heart rate.
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
- having a warm, relaxing bath or shower
- practice stretching and relaxation exercises, such as yoga
Many lifestyle habits can contribute to lower the resting heart rate in the long term.
They may also improve a person’s ability to maintain a healthy heart rate during physical activity and stress.
The following tips may help to lower the heart rate in the long term:
1. Exercise: The easiest and most effective way to achieve a lasting lower heart rate is to do regular exercise.
2. Stay hydrated: When the body is dehydrated, the heart has to work harder to stabilize blood flow. Throughout the day, drink plenty of sugar- and caffeine-free beverages, such as water and herbal tea.
3. Limit intake of stimulants, such as caffeine and nicotine: Stimulants can cause dehydration, increasing the heart’s workload.
4. Limit alcohol intake: Most forms of alcohol dehydrate the body. Alcohol is also a toxin, and the body must work harder to process and remove it.
5. Eat a healthy, balanced diet: Eating a varied diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, nuts, and legumes can help to improve the health of the heart, as well as overall health.
Foods and supplements rich in antioxidants and healthy fats can lower blood pressure and make it easier for the heart to pump.
Heart-healthy nutrients include:
- omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, lean meats, nuts, grains, and legumes
- phenols and tannins, found in tea, coffee, and red wine (in moderation)
- vitamin A, found in most leafy, green vegetables
- dietary fiber, found in whole grains, nuts, legumes, and most fruits and vegetables
- vitamin C, found especially in citrus fruits, leafy greens, and bean sprouts
6. Get enough sleep: A chronic lack of sleep puts stress on the whole body, including the heart. Most adults should get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night.
7. Maintain a healthy body weight: Extra weight also puts stress on the body and heart.
8. Reduce or resolve sources of substantial long-term stress: Stress caused by work, caring for a loved one, or financial burdens all cause the heart and the rest of the body to work harder, to maintain a normal rhythm and flow.
9. Seek counseling or psychological services: Traumatic experiences, grief, and certain mental health conditions stress the body and can impact brain chemistry, making it harder for people to cope with everyday activities and stressors.
10. Get outdoors: Research shows that people who spend more time in nature, even by taking a short walk in the woods or a park, tend to be happier and less stressed than people who do not.
11. Practice relaxation techniques: Activities that increase self-awareness and mindfulness, such as meditation and guided visualization, can help to reduce stress when practiced routinely.
Each heartbeat arises from specialized muscle cells called myocytes.
When these cells need more oxygen, as during exercise, the brain sends messages to the heart, causing myocytes to make stronger, more frequent pulses.
Everyone experiences sudden, temporary changes in their heart rate. They may be caused by:
- Emotional stress: Being upset or overwhelmed can cause a stress response, raising the heart rate.
- Weather: High temperature or humidity means that the body must work harder to cool itself down.
- Rapidly changing the body’s position: This can be as simple as standing up too quickly.
- Exercise: During physical activity, the heart pumps more frequently, to deliver blood and oxygen to muscle cells more quickly. The increase in heart rate will depend on how strenuous the exercise is.
- Recreational or prescription drugs: Many recreational drugs, such as cocaine and ecstasy, can temporarily raise the heart rate. Some prescription drugs can do the same.
- Fright or terror: Fear, an extreme form of stress, sparks an adrenaline response that increases the heart rate.
- Hormonal changes: Fluctuations in hormone levels, such as those that occur during pregnancy or menopause, may temporarily affect the heart rate.
The heart rate typically increases with age, as the muscle cells in the heart grow weaker.
Having a chronically high or abnormal heart rate is often a sign of an unhealthy lifestyle or an underlying medical condition.
Common long-term causes of a high heart rate include:
- lack of exercise
- poor diet
- smoking tobacco products
- excessive alcohol consumption
- hypertension, or high blood pressure
- long-term use of recreational drugs or misuse of prescription medications
Less common causes of a high heart rate include:
- mitral valve disease
- abnormal thyroid or hormonal activity
- heart damage or conditions
- severe bleeding
- organ failure or severe illness
An elevated heart rate is often a natural physical response. This is especially true if the spike is temporary and caused by physical activity or emotional stress.
A resting heart rate that is abnormally high for a prolonged period can signal an underlying medical condition.
Several lifestyle habits can help to lower temporary spikes in heart rate and result in a long-term reduction.
If the average heart rate is unusually high, because of an underlying medical condition, for example, a doctor may prescribe medication, such as a beta-blocker.