Heart Conditions

What Does Your Heart Rate Tell You?

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Heart rate is one of the vital signs of overall health. It reflects the state of heart function. The heart is responsible for circulating oxygen and nutrients via blood throughout the entire body. As a result, the heart function has a direct impact on all the other organs in the body.
In normal circumstances, the heart functions flawlessly but disruptions can happen. It is not unusual to experience an elevated heart rate when engaging in physical activity. Nevertheless, inexplicable and chronically elevated or low heart rate can indicate an underlying heart condition.

What is heart rate?

The heart rate, also known as pulse, is the number of times the heartbeats per minute. The heart rate varies from person to person. It is usually low when resting or sleeping and increases when engaging in physical activity or exercise. Since the body needs more oxygen-rich blood while engaging in physical activity, the heart beats faster.

Resting heart rate

The resting heart rate is the number of times the heart beats per minute when a person is at rest, and not physically active. For most people, the normal resting heart rate of 60 and 100 beats per minute (bpm) is normal. The resting heart rate can be affected by factors like stress, anxiety, illness, dehydration, hormones, medication, and physical activity.
In general, a lower resting heart rate is good and it means that the heart muscle is in great shape. Athletes and physically active people tend to have a lower resting heart rate, sometimes between 40-60 beats per minute.

Factors that affect heart rate

A number of factors are known to cause an increase or decrease in the heart rate.
  • Air temperature: The heart rate increases when temperatures and humidity soars.
  • Body position: The pulse momentarily increases for the first 15 to 20 seconds as you stand up after sitting or lying for a while.
  • Emotions:  Stressed, anxious and other extreme emotions can raise the pulse rate.
  • Body size: Body size usually does not have any major effect on pulse rate. But for very obese people, the resting pulse rate is higher than normal, though usually not more than 100 bmp.
  • Medication use: Medications that impact adrenaline (beta-blockers) can slow the pulse rate. On the other hand, a high dosage of thyroid medication can raise it.
Other factors that can affect pulse rate include age, physical activity levels, smoking or nicotine usage, and medical conditions such as high cholesterol, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

How to check heart rate?

The heart rate can be felt in a number of places such as the neck, the inside of the elbow, or even the top of the foot. However, the wrist is probably the most convenient, effective, and reliable place to get a good heart rate.
  • Place the tips of three fingers - index, second and third finger on the palm side of the wrist below the thumb base.
  • Press the fingers lightly until the blood flow beneath the fingers is felt. One may need to move the fingers slightly up and down until the pulse is felt.
  • Count the heartbeat for 10 seconds. Multiply the number of heartbeats by 6 to obtain the heart rate (pulse) per minute.
The best time to check heart rate is early morning, even before getting out of bed. However, to determine the maximum heart rate, one should check the pulse immediately after a vigorous workout or exercise.

Know your target heart rate during exercise

Most physicians and healthcare experts suggest that everybody should engage in moderate to vigorous exercise for 30 minutes a day or at least 150 minutes per week. However, many people often wonder how to qualify a particular exercise as such. In such cases, heart rate can be used as a measure to evaluate the intensity of an exercise.
The American Heart Association (AHA) has stated that the maximum heart rate when one is engaged in physical activity or exercise should be roughly equal to 220 bpm minus the age of the person.
The target heart rate during moderately intense physical activity is about 50-70% of the maximum heart rate, whereas during vigorous physical activity it is about 70-85% of the maximum heart rate. This table shows the target heart rate zones for various ages.


Target HR Zone 50-85%

Average Maximum Heart Rate, 100%

20 years

100-170 bpm

200 bpm

30 years

95-162 bpm

190 bpm

35 years

93-157 bpm

185 bpm

40 years

90-153 bpm

180 bpm

45 years

88-149 bpm

175 bpm

50 years

85-145 bpm

170 bpm

55 years

83-140 bpm

165 bpm

60 years

80-136 bpm

160 bpm

65 years

78-132 bpm

155 bpm

70 years

75-128 bpm

150 bpm

Conditions associated with chronically abnormal heart rate

Sustained variations from the above heart rate guides both at rest or activity could mean an underlying condition that should be discussed with the doctor. A few typical conditions associated with unusual heart rates are:

Slow Heart Rate

  • Underactive thyroid gland
  • Hyperkalemia (high potassium levels in the blood)
  • Infections such as typhoid fever or Lyme disease
  • Heart conditions such as sick sinus syndrome
  • Heart attack

Fast Heart Rate

  • Fever, infection or inflammation
  • Hypokalemia (low levels of potassium in the blood)
  • Overactive thyroid gland
  • Asthma or other respiratory problems
  • Anaemia
  • Side effects of some medications
  • Cardiovascular conditions such as atrial fibrillation, cardiomyopathy, or ventricular tachycardia.

Heart rate tracking devices: Are they useful?

Digital fitness and heart rate trackers powered by smartphone apps are fairly accurate at measuring heart rate. The wrist-worn devices are very useful when exercising. The devices can be used to track heart rate along with daily activity. Pulse trackers are beneficial for people with heart conditions who want to monitor their heart rate frequently to detect anomalies. It is important to note that commercially available and wrist-worn pulse rate monitors are not intended to be used for diagnosing health conditions. People who experience unusual symptoms should contact their physician as soon as possible.


Knowing the resting heart rate is a useful indicator of heart health. The heart rate can be checked by using simple methods at home. Usually, a change in heart rate is normal. If you feel that your heart is working harder or beating out of rhythm, faster or slower than normal, speak to a doctor about your heart health right away.


Heart Conditions


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