Heart rate recovery (HRR) is the capacity for the heart to return to its natural rate after elevation. It generally measures how quickly the heart rate decreases after exercise.

The heart rate refers to the number of times the heart pumps blood around the body in 1 minute. Several factors affect a person’s heart rate, including age and physical fitness.

Someone’s heart rate will change depending on their activity levels. For example, physical exercise causes the heart rate to increase as the body requires more oxygen and blood flow to reach the organs and tissues than usual.

Heart rate recovery generally refers to the decrease in heart rate 1 minute after exercise. Researchers suggest it may affect a person’s risk of developing various health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes. A shorter heart rate recovery is generally healthier and has links to a lower risk of these conditions.

This article explores how to calculate heart rate recovery, how to improve it, and the effects of heart rate recovery on health. It also discusses safety considerations for exercise.

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There are different ways to calculate heart rate recovery depending on the duration after a person exercises. People usually measure heart rate recovery 1 minute after exercise. It is advisable to use a heart rate monitoring device to accurately monitor heart rate at peak exercise.

Some fitness devices will calculate the heart rate recovery automatically after a workout.

However, people without such devices can try to measure it in the following way, but it is not as accurate:

  1. Check the heart rate immediately after exercising by placing two fingers on the wrist.
  2. Count the number of heartbeats for 15 seconds, then multiply that number by 4.
  3. Wait for 1 minute.
  4. Measure the heart rate again using the method in step one.
  5. Subtract the result from step one away from the result of step two.

Some healthcare professionals may administer exercise stress tests where they may measure someone’s heart rate recovery. These tests typically involve a bout of exercise, such as running on a treadmill or cycling on a stationary bike. Healthcare professionals will measure various vital signs, including heart rate.

A longer heart rate recovery can be a sign of potential health issues. For example, it has links to an increased risk of heart disease and death.

There is no specific heart rate recovery value that will indicate optimal health in everyone. However, one older study examined data from almost 800 physically active men after exercising. They found that the average heart rate recovery 1 minute after exercising was around 15 beats per minute.

A more recent study on 274 male athletes found that the average heart rate recovery 1 minute after exercising was around 29 beats per minute. However, it is important to note that this study focused on elite athletes.

A smaller number indicates a longer heart rate recovery. However, a healthcare professional may offer further guidance about optimal heart rate recovery on an individual basis.

Many factors can influence someone’s heart rate recovery, including genetics, age, and other things they cannot control. However, by improving physical fitness, a person may also improve their heart rate recovery.

People may increase their physical fitness by exercising regularly. There are several types of physical fitness, and each requires different types of exercise.

Aerobic or cardiovascular fitness specifically targets the heart and lungs to increase their efficiency. Therefore, targeting aerobic fitness may be a suitable way for someone to improve their heart rate recovery.

People with different fitness levels or who enjoy different activities may benefit from different approaches. For example, someone who is usually inactive should start with gentler activities, such as a short walk or walking up a flight of stairs.

Some other exercises that can increase aerobic fitness include:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that people need to aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week. The former might include brisk walking, while vigorous-intensity activity could include running.

Avoiding factors that reduce physical fitness is also important in increasing heart rate recovery. For example, smoking can reduce someone’s ability to exercise and their aerobic fitness. A person may improve their fitness and heart rate recovery by exercising more and quitting smoking.

Heart rate recovery is an indicator of heart health. A person’s heart should be able to pump blood around the body sufficiently to maintain physical activity and return to a regular rate in good time. A shorter time to heart rate recovery suggests that the heart is working efficiently.

Several studies have found a relationship between heart rate recovery and the risk of disease. For example, a 2017 review of nine studies found that lower heart rate recovery had associations with an increased risk of heart disease and death.

Exercising to improve physical fitness can benefit health. However, it is important to exercise safely to avoid injury.

Some people may be at a higher risk than others, such as those with chronic health conditions or older age. In some cases, a person may need to speak with a doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons suggests the following several safety tips when exercising to avoid injury:

  • using proper exercise equipment
  • warming up before exercising
  • stretching before exercising
  • avoiding rushing or increasing the intensity too quickly
  • drinking plenty of water
  • cooling down after exercising
  • getting enough rest to recover from exercise

Heart rate recovery is a measure of the heart’s capacity to return to a natural rate after exercising. High heart rate recovery values, which indicate shorter times to heart rate recovery, may indicate a person has better overall health than someone with a longer recovery.

Improving physical fitness may improve a person’s heart rate recovery. Performing regular aerobic exercises can gradually increase fitness and heart rate recovery. Aerobic exercises could include walking, running, or swimming.

However, people with chronic health conditions or of older age need to be careful when exercising and may benefit from speaking with a doctor before starting a new routine. Anyone exercising needs to follow basic safety advice, such as including proper rest periods and not increasing the intensity too quickly.