What Is My Heart Rate?
Your heart rate, determined by the number of times your heart beats each minute, is an important measure of your health. How hard your heart has to work during various activities can tell you a lot about your overall physical condition.
Resting Heart Rate: Your resting heart rate measures the speed at which your heart beats during periods of little physical activity. The best time to measure your resting heart rate is in the morning before you get out of bed.
Maximum heart rate: Often used to calculate your target heart rate, your maximum heart rate measures the speed at which your heart beats during intense physical activity. It is most safely measured in a controlled medical environment, but you can estimate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. For example, a 30-year-old's maximum heart rate would be estimated at 190 beats per minute.
Target Heart Rate: Also known as the training heart rate, your target heart rate measures the speed at which your heart beats during peak aerobic exercise and can help you decipher whether you're working out at a level of intensity that's appropriate for you. Your target heart rate is usually equivalent to 60-85% of your maximum heart rate. In the example above, the 30 year old man's maximum heart rate was 190 (220-30), so his target heart rate would be 114-161.5 beats per minute ((190 x .6) - (190 x .85)).
Measuring Your Heart Rate
Heart rates are most accurately measured with a diagnostic tool known as an electrocardiograph (ECG or EKG), which are often used in a medical setting to noninvasively and painlessly record electrical activity of the heart over time.
You can also buy a commercial heart rate monitor kit consisting of a chest strap with heart-rate monitoring electrodes and a display you wear on your wrist for easy interpretation of the data gathered.
However, the easiest way to assess your heart rate is by taking your pulse. Using your index and middle finger, simply press on any part of your body where an artery pulsation can be felt on the skin's surface, such as the neck or inside wrist, and count the number of pulses per minute. Be sure not to use your thumb when taking someone else's pulse, as it has a strong pulse of its own.
Interpreting Your Heart Rate
Measuring your heart rate can not only help you exercise at a level of intensity that's right for you, it can also help provide information about your overall health. Factors like physical fitness, gender and age will impact your readings. As a general rule, the more physically fit you are, the lower your heart rate will be, and the more activity it will take to increase it. However, unreasonably low heart rates (bradycardia) or high heart rates (tachycardia) can be a sign of trouble and should be evaluated by a physician.
Most importantly, call 911 if you think it's a life-threatening situation or contact a medical professional if you have adiditional questions about heart disease, or think you might be experiencing heart attack symptoms.