A person’s heart rate should typically be between 60–100 beats per minute, but many factors can affect it. A rate below 60 is not necessarily dangerous, but a heart rate above 100 may need medical attention.

A person’s heart rate changes throughout the day to meet the demands of the body. It is higher during times of intense activity or stress and lowest when a person relaxes or sleeps.

The heart rate also changes during pregnancy, fever, and times of anxiety.

Identifying a person’s usual heart rate pattern can help them understand what a dangerous heart rate is for them.

This article will explain ideal heart rates, taking into account factors such as medication use and age. It will also explain some methods a person can try to raise or lower their heart rate.

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Whether a heart rate is dangerous or not will depend on various factors, including a person’s:

  • overall health
  • age
  • usual heart rate
  • usual activity levels
  • activity at the time of measuring the heart rate

Some people naturally have a higher or lower heart rate than others. But, if it exceeds their usual levels or is outside recommended target levels, it may be dangerous.

A very high heart rate can indicate a problem with the heart or a blockage in the cardiovascular system, which may lead to a heart attack, stroke, or other serious complications.

A very low heart rate can indicate sepsis or another condition that needs medical attention. It may also cause dizziness and increase the risk of a fall.

What is a normal heart rate?

A person should undergo regular checks to determine their heart rates at rest and while exercising. This can help them understand if any changes in their heart rate may be dangerous.

Learn how to check a person’s pulse here.

At rest

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), a normal resting heart rate is 60–100 beats per minute (bpm) for most adults. A heart rate outside these limits may be dangerous.

However, some people have heart rates outside these ranges and are still perfectly healthy. For example, an elite athlete may have a very low resting heart rate of 40 bpm.

While exercising

The heart rate greatly increases when a person is very active or exercising.

The highest rate a person’s heart can safely reach is their maximum heart rate. This declines with age. The ideal heart rate, or target heart rate, for exercise also declines with age.

In general, for most adults, their target and maximum heart rates are as follows:

Age (years)Target heart rate (bpm)Average maximum heart rate (bpm)

A person’s heart rate increase during exercise depends on many factors, including how intense the workout is and how fit they are.

A very sedentary person’s heart rate may increase when walking from one room to another.

People who exercise regularly may need very intense workouts to get their heart rate up.

If a person’s heart rate is temporarily outside these numbers during exercise, it is not usually a medical emergency. According to the AHA, a person can push themselves a little more or less depending on their heart rate target.

While sleeping

Most people’s sleeping heart rate will fall to the lower end of the normal resting heart rate range of 60–100 bpm.

In deep sleep, the heart rate may fall below 60 bpm, especially in people who have very low heart rates while awake.

After waking, a person’s heart rate will start increasing toward their usual resting heart rate.

In children

Children, especially young children, tend to have higher heart rates than adults.

As with adults, anxiety, fever, and heat may influence their heart rate.

This table shows the ideal heart rate ranges for children while being awake and sleeping:

AgeHeart rate when awake (bpm)Heart rate when asleep (bpm)
under 28 days100–20590–160
1–12 months100–19090–160
1–2 years98–14080–120
3–5 years80–12065–100
6–11 years75–11858–90
12–15 years60–10050–90

If a child’s heart rate is very high or very low, a doctor will likely do tests to see if an underlying cause needs treatment.

Many different factors can influence a person’s heart rate.

In most cases, having a very high or very low heart rate is only dangerous when there is no obvious explanation.

High heart rate

Factors that may cause a high heart rate include:

  • Anxiety: People experiencing intense anxiety may have heart rates higher than 100 bpm, especially during a panic attack.
  • Pain: Pain can cause the heart rate to increase.
  • Pregnancy: A person’s heart rate increases during pregnancy. Everyday activities also require more cardiovascular effort, so relatively easy activities — such as climbing stairs or taking short walks — can raise the heart rate more than usual. Pregnancy may also cause heart palpitations or an irregular heart rate.
  • Fever: A fever or exposure to intense heat can sometimes cause a higher heart rate.
  • Caffeine: Caffeine can increase both heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Medications: Some medications, such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors or drugs for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), may affect heart rate.

Worrying about having a high heart rate may cause it to rise further. Taking some deep breaths and trying calming exercises can help a person assess whether they need to be concerned about their heart rate.

If there is an obvious cause of a heart rate change, such as pain or a fever, a person can try addressing that first to see if the rate returns to its usual level.

Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome

A person with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) may experience an increased heart rate upon standing up. They may also experience dizziness and a drop in blood pressure.

POTS is a condition of the autonomic nervous system. It happens when this system does not properly regulate bodily functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, or breathing.

Learn more about POTS here.

Low heart rate

In general, the lower a person’s resting heart rate, the healthier their heart muscle. However, a very low heart rate can indicate a problem with the heart’s electrical system.

A sudden drop in heart rate far below a person’s usual resting heart rate may indicate sepsis, a potentially life threatening systemic infection. It may also indicate a brain bleed or that the electrical system of the heart is failing.

A low heart rate is an emergency for a person with symptoms of illness, excessive bleeding, a recent serious injury, fainting, or dizziness.

According to one 2020 article, the following factors may lead to a person experiencing a low heart rate:

The following medications can also cause a low heart rate:

Determining the cause of a low heart rate means a doctor can treat it accordingly. This may involve treating an underlying condition or changing the person’s medication.

A heart rate that is consistently outside of the ideal ranges can lead to complications.

Low heart rate

Without appropriate treatment, a low heart rate can cause:

Over time, both high and low heart rates may damage the heart.

Having a very low heart rate can also damage other organs. This is more commonly linked to low blood pressure or other signs of shock.

High heart rate

Without proper treatment, a very high heart rate can lead to:

Underlying conditions

For most people, having a heart rate that is consistently too high or too low may signal an underlying condition, such as:

It is not an emergency if the heart rate briefly falls outside the recommended range or if a person has a shift in heart rate that improves with relaxation or deep breathing.

However, a person should contact a doctor if they:

  • notice that their resting heart rate suddenly changes
  • have a change in heart rate that causes anxiety
  • experience a heart rate change after taking a new medication
  • often have an irregular heart rate

A person should go to the emergency room if they:

  • have shortness of breath and a change in heart rate
  • feel very dizzy, faint, lightheaded, or confused
  • have chest pain and a high or low heart rate
  • have an infection and a low heart rate
  • are bleeding and have a low heart rate, which may be the case if a person who has recently given birth experiences a change in heart rate

If a person’s heart rate is too low or is only low temporarily, treatment may not be necessary.

If medication is causing a low heart rate, a person can discuss changing medications with a doctor.

A pacemaker may also help a person’s body regulate their heart rate in some cases.

If a person’s high heart rate is due to stress or exercise, taking steps to reduce these can help lower it.

Learn about some ways to treat and manage stress here.

If the high heart rate is due to an underlying cause such as sepsis or hypoxia, treating this will also help regulate the heart rate.

At home, a person can also try the Valsalva maneuver, which increases pressure in the chest and can lower the heart rate. The Valsalva maneuver involves a person holding their breath and bearing down.

Learn more about the Valsalva maneuver here.

If these measures do not work and a person’s heart rate is consistently high, they should contact a doctor.

Learn about more ways to lower the heart rate here.

The heart responds to the pressures the body faces, and it may change its rhythm according to the muscles’ demand for blood and oxygen.

However, when heart rate changes appear to be random, are long-term, or occur with other symptoms, this may signal an underlying medical problem.

Only a doctor can diagnose the issue and treat it accordingly.

Read this article in Spanish.