What Your Heart Rate Tells You

Your heart is, essentially, what keeps you alive. Without a heartbeat, there is no you. As for your heart rate itself, there are many things that it can tell you about your health both at rest and during physical activity — including your aerobic capacity, as well as whether you are at risk of a heart attack. When it comes to what your “normal” heart rate should be, it varies from person to person and will often fluctuate (either by speeding up or slowing down) depending on your activities throughout the day. That being said, your heart rate should never be too high or too low.

In order to determine your heart rate, you need to find your pulse, and there a few different ways in which you can do that: You can check your heart rate from the wrists, from the inside of your elbow, on the side of your neck, or on the top of your foot. In order to make sure your heart rate reading is as accurate as possible, you want to place your finger over the pulse point and count the number of beats in 60-second increments. At rest, a heart rate can be anywhere from 60 bpm (beats per minute) to 100 bpm. Having a heart rate slightly lower than 60 bpm doesn’t necessarily signify that you may have a medical problem, as a lower than average heart rate could also be caused from taking certain medications (such as a beta blocker), or is also possible in individuals who are athletic and get a significant amount of physical activity on a daily basis. This is because the heart muscle is usually in better condition in those who are more active and does not need to work as hard to maintain steady beats. It’s not typically recommended that you check your heart rate after exercise, as you will only miscalculate it. Instead, wait at least 1 to 2 hours following any physical activity before checking your pulse. Drinking caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, can also cause the heart rate to become elevated, so you’ll also want to wait at least 1 to 2 hours after consuming caffeine before checking your pulse.

Aside from your activity level, there are also other factors that can impact your heart rate, such as air temperature, body position, body size, emotions, use of certain medications as previously mentioned. When it comes to air temperature, heart rate can be affected as a result of a rise in temperature and humidity as it causes the heart to pump a bit more blood. When this occurs, your heart rate may be increased by about 5 to 10 more beats per minute than what it would be on average. When it comes to body position, your heart rate can change if you go from resting/sitting to standing — though the change will usually only be within the first 20 seconds of doing so and then will go back to its normal rate afterward. When it comes to emotions and heart rate, anything from stress to anxiety or feeling extra happy can all cause your heart rate to become elevated. When it comes to body size, it is possible to have a higher resting heart rate, though usually not by much. Lastly, medication. We’ve already touched upon beta blockers, which can slow down your pulse; while taking thyroid medication (or being on too high of a dose) can cause your heart rate to become elevated.

If your heart beats above 100 beats per minute, the medical term of this is known as tachycardia. During a tachycardia episode, your heart rate can reach as high as 300 beats per minute, and is often the result of something other than an increase in physical activity, such as being stressed out or having a high fever. In many cases, a tachycardia episode will end as quickly as it begins and is often without any symptoms. However, if you notice that you have an increased heart rate for a prolonged period, or if you develop symptoms such as dizziness, fainting spells, shortness of breath, tightness of the chest or chest pain, then you should seek immediate medical attention.



Dr. Ali Ghahary is a Family Physician in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. http://www.alighahary.ca

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store