What Your Resting Heart Rate is Telling You

A normal resting heart rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute in an adult.

Your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats each minute. It varies (speeds up or slows down) to accommodate your changing need of oxygen as you participate in different activities throughout your day. Your heart rate when you are sitting still or sleeping is called your resting heart rate (RHR). Your RHR is a vital indicator of your overall health.

Resting heart rate is "a rough estimate of a person's physical fitness and health status," Dr. Gregory D. Pennock, MD, FACC, FASE, a cardiologist in Sagle, Idaho, told Health. Studies have found that a high resting heart rate may be associated with an increased risk of early death.

A resting heart rate is frequently high if you have health conditions such as:

  • Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and peripheral vascular disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart attacks
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep apnea 
  • Diabetes
  • Strokes
  • Asthma
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
A person measuring heart rate on their smartwatch

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What is a Normal Resting Heart Rate by Age? 

Normal heart rates vary from one person to another and increase and decrease based on the amount of oxygen your body needs at any given moment. For example, your heart rate increases to provide extra oxygen to your brain and muscles when exercising or in a stressful situation. Conversely, your heart rate will decrease when sitting quietly or sleeping because your muscles and organs do not need as much oxygen.

The American Heart Association defines a normal heart rate as 60 to 100 beats per minute in an adult. However, your age plays a significant role in your resting heart rate. According to Dr. Pennock, young children have higher RHRs than adults, and most adults have RHRs between 60 and 90. However, "in some individuals, it may be completely normal for them to have RHRs either below 60 or above 90 bpm,” Dr. Pennock said. 

Other factors play into your resting heart rate as well, including:

  • Your general health condition: Some chronic medical conditions can elevate or lower your resting heart rate. Anxiety, stress, certain medications, and hormones can also affect your resting heart rate.
  • Your race: South Asians and African Americans, on average, have higher heart rates than other people groups.
  • Your weight: People who are overweight frequently have higher RHRs. However, underweight people also tend to have a higher heart rate.
  • Your activity level: The National Institute of Health reports that people with a higher daily step count tend to have a lower RHR than more sedentary people. Dr. Pennock added, "... young, healthy adults, athletes, and individuals who exercise regularly typically have lower RHRs than those who do not."

“As a broad, general rule, it is better to have a lower RHR than an elevated RHR," said Dr. Pennock.

Measuring Your Resting Heart Rate

It is essential to know how to measure your resting heart rate so you can take it at home and keep track of its trends.

Dr. Pennock recommends you check your resting heart rate after sitting for about 3-5 minutes. Then, feel the pulse on your wrist or neck and count the beats for 1 minute. That is your resting heart rate.

Many automated blood pressure cuffs will also give you a heart rate measurement. In addition, some wearable heart rate monitors, such as watches or activity trackers, have been found to record a person's resting heart rate accurately as well. 

If you have a high RHR, also known as tachycardia, it is likely a sign of an underlying health condition. You should visit a healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Things you can do to lower a high RHR, include:

  • Taking heart and other medications as prescribed by your healthcare provider
  • Keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control
  • Reducing caffeinated beverages and alcohol intake
  • Quitting smoking and other forms of tobacco
  • Eating a nutritious, heart-healthy diet
  • Exercising regularly

Regular exercise is crucial for lowering your resting heart rate and keeping it low. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous activity weekly for the best results.

Just as working your arm or leg muscles makes it easier to lift weights or run, working your heart muscle will make it easier for it to function. The key is to get your heart rate to target or cardio range during your exercise sessions. 

Finding Your Maximum or Target Heart Rate

Your resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute while resting. Your target heart rate is the number of beats per minute you want to reach and keep your heart at during your exercise session to build heart muscle and increase your cardiovascular health. 

You need to know your maximum heart rate to figure out your target HR. To determine your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. So, a 50-year-old would have a maximum target heart rate of around 170.

During moderate-intensity exercise, you want your heart rate to reach and sustain at about 50-70% of your maximum HR. During vigorous-intensity exercise, your heart rate should be at 70-85% of your maximum HR.

  • Ages 20-30: Approximate maximum HR: 200-190; approximate target HR: 95-170
  • Ages 30-40: Approximate maximum HR: 190-180; approximate target HR: 90-162
  • Ages 40-50: Approximate maximum HR: 180-170; approximate target HR: 85-153
  • Ages 50-60: Approximate maximum HR: 170-160; approximate target HR: 80-145
  • Ages 60-70: Approximate maximum HR: 160-150; approximate target HR: 75-136
  • Ages 70-80: Approximate maximum HR: 150-140; approximate target HR: 70-128 

High Resting Heart Rate and Anxiety

Anxiety can sometimes raise your resting heart rate and mimic heart problems and heart attacks. Talk to a healthcare provider if you have irregular heart rhythms (palpitations), chest tightness, chest pain, sweating, or shortness of breath. These can be anxiety symptoms, but they could also be symptoms of a more serious heart problem.

Other medical conditions which may increase your RHR include:

  • Anemia
  • Infection
  • Lung diseases
  • Heart diseases
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Certain heart rhythm disorders

Talk to a healthcare provider if you feel your resting heart rate is too high, especially if you also have symptoms such as heart palpitations, fever, or shortness of breath. Dr. Pennock recommended telling your healthcare provider if your RHR exceeds 100, even if you do not have any other symptoms.

You want your resting heart rate closer to 60 than 100. Generally speaking, the lower your resting heart rate, the lower your chances of dying from a heart-related condition.

But How Low is Too Low?

A heart rate lower than 60 does not necessarily mean you have a medical condition. For example, an active person, especially an athlete, may have an RHR as low as 40.

Several factors can cause your RHR to be low, also known as bradycardia, including:

  • Heart damage from a heart attack, heart disease, or heart defects
  • Problems with your heart's electrical conductions system
  • Metabolic problems, such as low thyroid levels
  • Certain inflammatory diseases, such as lupus
  • Complications after heart surgery
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Certain medications 
  • Heart infections
  • Sleep apnea

Always talk to a healthcare provider if your resting heart rate is much lower than usual, especially if you also feel dizzy, weak, or faint. 

A Quick Review 

Your resting heart rate is an essential tool that gives a general overview of your health. It’s a good idea to check your resting heart rates occasionally and keep track of them. 

Talk to your healthcare provider if you are concerned about your resting heart rate, especially if you are experiencing dizziness, weakness, fainting, or heart palpitations. And call 9-1-1 if you or someone near you has chest pain or difficulty breathing.

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Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Avram R, Tison GH, Aschbacher K, et al. Real-world heart rate norms in the Health eHeart study. NPJ Digit Med. 2019;2:58 doi:10.1038/s41746-019-0134-9

  3. The American Heart Association. All about heart rate (pulse).

  4. The American Heart Association. Tachycardia: Fast heart rate.

  5. The American Heart Association. American heart association recommendations for physical activity in adults and kids.

  6. The American Heart Association. Target heart rates chart.

  7. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Anxiety disorders.

  8. The American Heart Association. Bradycardia: Slow heart rate.

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