What Is a Normal Heart Rate?

An Important Gauge of Heart Health

Your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats in a minute. It is lower when you rest and higher when you exercise, and an important indicator of the health of your heart. Another name for heart rate is pulse.

A typical resting heart rate for adults is 60-100 beats per minute (BPM). Your activity, age, environment, state of mind, and any medications you are taking are among the factors that will affect it.

Taking pulse to check heart rate
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How It Works

Your heartbeat is triggered by electrical impulses that travel from the top to the bottom of your heart muscle, causing it to contract and then relax. This rhythmic action controls the flow of blood through the arteries and veins of your body.

The electrical signals, along with hormones, control how hard and fast your heart beats, along with your blood pressure. If it’s healthy, your beating heart will supply your body with enough blood, at the right rate, to function well.

Types

What is considered normal is depends, in part, on your age and activity.

Resting Heart Rate

When you are at rest your heart will beat at a rate that pumps the lowest amount of blood that your body needs. That is your resting heartbeat.

Resting heartbeats vary by individual, but typically fall into these ranges:

  • Newborns ages 0 to 1 month old: 70 to 190 beats per minute (BPM)
  • Infants ages 1 to 11 months old: 80 to 160 BPM
  • Children ages 1 to 2 years old: 80 to 130 BPM
  • Children ages 3 to 4 years old: 80 to 120 BPM
  • Children ages 5 to 6 years old: 75 to 115 BPM
  • Children ages 7 to 9 years old: 70 to 110 BPM
  • Children ages 10 and older: 60 to 100 BPM
  • Adults ages 18 and over: 60 to 100 BPM
  • Elite athletes: 40 to 60 BPM

A resting heart rate at the high end of the spectrum may put you at higher risk for heart attacks, particularly if you are older. Having a resting heartbeat of greater than 76 beats per minute raised the risk of heart attack by more than a quarter in postmenopausal women, according to a large study published in BMJ in 2009.

Maximum Heart Rate

When you are exercising strenuously then your heart will beat at a rate that pumps as much blood as it can to meet your body’s needs. That is your maximum heart rate.

There are different methods to predict maximum heart rate. One popular one is to subtract your age from 220 in order to get your predicted maximum heart rate. For instance, if you are age 45, then your predicted maximum is 175.

Your own maximum may be different, however. Your healthcare provider can get the most accurate gauge of this using a medically-supervised test.

Target Heart Rate

Knowing this number may help you to get the best benefits from exercise at a lower risk to your health. Usually, this is 60% to 80% of your maximum heart rate, although your healthcare provider may start you at a lower percentage.

So, for the same 45-year-old target heart rate range for exercise would be 105-140. With high-intensity interval training (HIIT), your target range may be 85%.

However, you should check with your healthcare provider before beginning any exercise program.

How It Is Measured

Heart rate is usually measured by a person using their own fingers. However, devices are used sometimes to monitor people with cardiovascular problems or those who wish to see how exercise is affecting their own heart rate. 

Taking Your Pulse 

The pulse can be measured at places on your body where arteries are close to the surface of the skin, such as the wrist, neck, or temple. Here’s how:

  • Rest for at least 10 minutes before measuring your resting heart rate. Take your exercise heart rate while you are exercising.
  • To use your wrist, place your index and middle finger over the underside of your opposite wrist, below the crease of the base of your thumb. Press gently with your fingers flattened until you feel the pulse. Find a clock or watch to measure the time.
  • If you are using your neck, make sure that you sit or lie down before taking your pulse. Don’t press too hard, or fainting or a slowed heartbeat could occur. Place your index and middle fingers just to the right or left of the Adam's apple, in the soft, hollow area. Press very gently until you feel the pulse.
  • To get your beats per minute, simply count the beats for one full minute. Or, you can count the beats for 30 seconds and multiply the number by 2.

Electrocardiogram (EKG)

Your doctor may order this test to measure the electrical activity of your heartbeat and see if anything is wrong with the way your heart is functioning. Electrodes are attached to your chest with adhesive pads and the wires leading from them send the information to a machine (ECG) that plots out the electrical activity of your heart on graph paper. The process is painless.

Holter Monitor

In essence, this is a portable, battery-operated version of an ECG that your doctor gives you to take home with you so that your heartbeat can be measured for 24 to 48 hours, or longer. It is used to detect abnormal heart rhythms that may not show up during a doctor’s visit, but could as you go about your daily activities.

For instance, if you are taking a beta blocker to treat high blood pressure or control an abnormal heart rhythm, your doctor may ask you to self-monitor and keep a diary of your heart rate.

Exercise Heart Rate Monitor

Some people use exercise heart rate monitors that they purchase to determine how exercise affects them and see if they can stay within their target zones. Popular options include:

  • Chest strap monitor: A transmitter attaches to a belt worn around your chest, and sends electrical signals to a receiver that is worn on the wrist like a watch. The wrist receiver or a cell phone app displays your heart rate.
  • Wristwatch monitor: Optical sensors are used to detect the blood flowing through your veins. They can be less accurate than chest strap monitors because they measure blood flow further away from your heart, plus light can hit the sensor as you move your wrist around.

When To Call Your Doctor

If your heart rate is continually at an abnormally high level, pounding, irregular, or hard to locate, you might have a health problem that needs attention. Reach out to your healthcare provider about it.

A Word From Verywell

In this era of wearable tech and health monitoring apps, it’s easy to get constant updates on your heart rate as you exercise or go about your daily activities and to view trend data. It can be tempting to draw conclusions about what you find (or on the other hand, to ignore them). However, be sure to tell your doctor first about any readings that are abnormal or troubling to you.

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Article Sources
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  2. Cleveland Clinic. Pulse and heart rate. Updated November 18, 2018.

  3. MedlinePlus. Pulse. Updated February 7, 2019.

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  5. Hsia J, Larson JC, Ockene JK, et al. Resting heart rate as a low tech predictor of coronary events in women: prospective cohort studyBMJ. 2009;338:b219. doi:10.1136/bmj.b219

  6. Cleveland Clinic. Pulse and heart rate: Test details. Updated November 18, 2018.

  7. Cleveland Clinic. Electrocardiogram (EKG). Updated February 14, 2019.

  8. American Heart Association. Holter monitor. Updated July 31, 2015.

  9. Cleveland Clinic. Your fitness tracker isn’t the best way to measure heart rate. May 18, 2020.