Most athletes are very familiar with the concept of heart rate, and how important healthy heart rate is in terms of optimum performance. However, most of us only have a vague notion of what our heart rate actually is, and very little idea how to monitor it successfully.
What is Heart Rate?
Your heart is kept beating by a natural pacemaker, which sends electrical pulses to the organ, stimulating the pumping action. This pacemaker is called the sinoatrial (SA) node, and it has a vital role within the body, controlling heart rate.
The term ‘heart rate’ quite simply refers to the number of times your heart is able to beat in a minute. The easiest way to measure heart rate is by taking your pulse. By counting the number of beats over the course of a minute, you’ll be able to determine what your heart rate is.
It’s easy to measure your own heart rate by simply locating your pulse on the side of your neck, or on the wrist, and counting the number of beats in a minute. Alternatively, you may find it easier to take a measurement at the elbow or at the top of the foot.
Why Do You Need to Know Your Heart Rate?
Our heart rates can provide vital clues as to how healthy our hearts are, which is why it makes good sense to monitor pulse on a regular basis, especially as you get older. Professor Richard Stein from the New York University School of Medicine, points out: “As you age, changes in the rate and regularity of your pulse can change and may signify a heart condition or other condition that needs to be addressed.”
What is a Healthy Heart Rate?
According to the US National Institutes of Health, the normal “resting heart rate for adults, including older-aged adults and everyone over the age of 10 years, is between 60 and 100 heartbeats a minute.”
It’s unusual for a resting rate to fall below this, though professional athletes may drop as low as 40 beats per minute. Babies and infants experience much higher heart rates, but this gradually slows as they mature, and by the age of 10, their heart rate is the same as any other adult.
If your heart rate is above 100 beats per minute, this may indicate that your heart is beating too fast, which is a condition called tachycardia. If it’s beating below 60 beats per minute, and you’re not extremely fit or a professional athlete, this may be a sign of bradycardia.
When Should You Be Worried?
It’s important to remember that heart rate varies continually throughout the day. Stress, anxiety and arousal can make the heart rate quicken, and even temperature can have an effect. Likewise, if you’re engaged in any strenuous activity or exercise, it’s likely that your heart rate will increase.
As a result, you shouldn’t be alarmed if you notice that your heart rate seems unusually quick or slow on just the one occasion, especially if you don’t experience any other symptoms, and you can identify a reason behind it. However, if you are worried at any time, especially if you experience abnormal heart rate on more than one occasion, you may want to book an appointment with your GP, in order to have it medically checked out.