How to Check Your Heart Rate

Your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats in one minute. While heart rate normally increases with activity, your resting heart rate (the number of times that your heart beats in one minute while you are sitting at rest) is an indicator of your heart function.

If a heart beats too much or does not beat enough, it's a sign that it's not functioning properly. This means your heart is either working too hard or not hard enough to support your body.

When your heart rate is measured at any location other than the heart itself, it can also be called your pulse.

This article describes how to check your heart rate (or pulse), what your results mean, and when to see your healthcare provider.

checking radial pulse at the wrist

MAKSIM SHELIAKIN / Getty Images

Measuring Heart Rate

You can measure your heart rate at several different artery locations on your body, or through technology like smartphone apps and wearable heart rate monitors.

To manually take your heart rate at the location of an artery, you'll hold your fingers over the artery until you can feel it beating. 

Once you start to feel beating in the artery, you can get your pulse in one of three ways:

  • Count how many times you feel beats within one minute.
  • Count how many times you feel beats within 30 seconds and multiply that number by 2.
  • Count how many times you feel beats within 15 seconds and multiply that number by 4.

Radial Pulse

The radial pulse is produced by the radial artery. This is found on the underside of the forearm at the base of the wrist on the thumb side of the arm. To take your radial pulse, use the index and middle fingers of your opposite hand and place the fingertips on the thumb side of the forearm below the wrist bone. 

Carotid Pulse

The carotid pulse is produced by the carotid artery, which is found on the front portion of the neck. To take your carotid pulse, use your index and middle fingers and slide your fingertips to the side of your trachea (windpipe) located in the middle of your neck below the jawbone.

Pedal Pulse

A pedal pulse is found in the foot and is produced by either of two arteries: the posterior tibial artery, located at the back of the ankle, or the dorsalis pedis artery, a branch of the anterior tibial artery located at the top of the foot.

To take your pedal pulse at the dorsalis pedis artery, take your index and middle fingers and place the fingertips on the top of your foot between the first and second metatarsal bones.

Brachial Pulse

A brachial pulse is produced by the brachial artery, found on the inner side of the arm near the elbow crease. To take your brachial pulse, bend your elbow slightly and turn your forearm palm-side up. Using your index and middle fingers, place your fingertips to the side of your bicep muscle (located in the middle of the upper arm above the elbow crease). Slide the fingertips slightly down toward your elbow, stopping at the elbow crease by the inner side of your arm.

Heart Rate Monitors

Heart rate monitors can include a strap that is placed around the chest or wrist (like a watch) that contains sensors to monitor your heart rate. Heart rate monitors that record your heart rate at your chest are the most accurate, but wearing one at your wrist is much more convenient and comfortable to use.

Smartphone Apps

Some smartphone apps can track your heart rate from wearable technology like chest and wrist heart rate monitors while others can record your pulse through the camera function. This works by performing photoplethysmography, a process that uses light to illuminate the skin and measure changes in light absorption, which detects blood volume changes that correlate with heartbeats.

Interpreting Results

A healthy resting heart rate falls within the range of 60 to 100 beats per minute. However, very active, athletic individuals may have healthy heart rates below 60 beats per minute.

A resting heart rate lower than 60 beats per minute is classified as bradycardia, or slow heart rate, while a resting heart rate higher than 100 beats per minute is called tachycardia, or high heart rate. A resting heart rate that falls outside the recommended range is often a sign of a cardiac condition that requires medical attention.

Factors that can influence your heart rate include:

  • Body temperature
  • Body weight
  • Age
  • Whether you or sitting, standing, or lying down
  • Use of medications 
  • Stress and emotions
  • Use of stimulants like caffeine
  • Hydration levels

When to See a Healthcare Provider

You should see a healthcare provider if your heart rate falls outside of the recommended range, either lower than 60 beats per minute or higher than 100 beats per minute. These are possible signs that your heart is not functioning properly, especially if your heart rate is on the higher end. You may need to make certain lifestyle changes, take medication, or have a surgical procedure to help your heart function better.

Extreme fatigue, dizziness, lightheadedness, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, or fainting are signs of a medical emergency. Warning signs of a heart attack that can result from an abnormal heart rate include sudden chest pain or pressure, radiating pain down the left arm and into the upper back or to the jaw, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, and dizziness.

Summary 

Your heart rate, also known as your pulse, is the number of times your heart beats in one minute. It can be measured through heart rate monitors and smartphone apps, or it can be taken via a radial, carotid, pedal, or brachial pulse at one of your arteries. A healthy resting heart rate falls within the range of 60 to 100 beats per minute. If your heart rate falls outside of this range, it may be a sign that your heart is not functioning properly, and you should schedule a visit with your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a good heart rate for my age?

    A good resting heart rate for adults falls within the range of 60 to 100 beats per minute, with a resting heart rate on the lower end of the range generally indicating improved heart functioning. A healthy resting heart rate for newborns, infants, and young children will vary by age group, but it can generally exceed 100 beats per minute and still fall within a healthy range.

  • What is a dangerous heart rate?

    A dangerous resting heart rate can be anything that falls outside the healthy range of 60 to 100 beats per minute for adults, especially if your heart rate is on the higher end. Very low heart rates can be dangerous as well, but they're also commonplace among active, athletic individuals who have undergone efficient cardiovascular training.

  • How can I lower my heart rate?

    You can lower your heart rate through exercise, adequate hydration, avoidance of stimulants like caffeine, getting enough sleep, losing weight, lowering stress, and taking medication. 

2 Sources
Verywell Health 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.
  1. De Ridder B, Van Rompaey B, Kampen JK, Haine S, Dilles T. Smartphone Apps Using Photoplethysmography for Heart Rate Monitoring: Meta-Analysis. JMIR Cardio. 2018 Feb 27;2(1):e4. doi: 10.2196/cardio.8802

  2. American Heart Association. All About Heart Rate (Pulse).

By Kristen Gasnick, PT, DPT
Kristen Gasnick, PT, DPT, is a medical writer and a physical therapist at Holy Name Medical Center in New Jersey.