What’s the Difference Between Resting Heart Rate and Blood Pressure?

You’ve probably slid a blood pressure cuff onto an arm at least a few times in your life. You’ve also probably had a doctor time your pulse while at a check-up. There are lots of numbers that can tell you a something about your health, but two of the most common are resting heart rate (RHR) and blood pressure.

You might know a little about these two components of heart health, but it’s hard to keep every test and reading straight. Andrew Freeman, MD, a cardiologist and director of Cardiovascular Prevention and Wellness at National Jewish Health in Denver, Colorado, breaks down exactly what those two seemingly-similar readings are, and why they’re so important.

What Is Resting Heart Rate (RHR)?

Resting heart rate can also be referred to as “pulse,” says Freeman, and it’s a measurement that indicates how efficiently your heart is working. “It’s simply a marker of how many times per minute your heart is pumping blood,” he explains. “It’s also a number that responds the fastest to an increase in demand on the heart, like if you have a fever or start to exercise.”

The “normal” range for an average heart is between 60 and 100. “Resting heart rate is never constant, although it typically falls somewhere in the 60s or 70s,” Freeman explains. “Elite athletes might have a slower RHR in the 30s or upper 40s.” Doctors can also use your resting heart rate to get a sense if your heart might be straining too much, due to illness or another stressor, or it’s not working hard enough, and then recommend clinical tests, such as an electrocardiogram, or EKG, to check for underlying health conditions.

How to measure: Keep track of your RHR overtime in your Fitbit app with a PurePulse-enabled Fitbit tracker, like the Fitbit Alta HR, Fitbit Charge 2, or Fitbit Blaze. Or you can measure it manually: Take your pulse for 15 seconds, either at the wrist or alongside the windpipe. Multiply that number by 4.

What Is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is a measurement of the force acting upon the walls of your arteries, which is why “high blood pressure” is referred to as hypertension. The measurement is taken in two numbers: systolic blood pressure / diastolic blood pressure. “You’re measuring the peak blood pressure when the heart squeezes,” Freeman explains.

A normal reading is roughly 120/80 or a bit lower, and that top number is what’s most commonly in flux. “We start to get concerned when that number is in the 130s, and think about treatment when it’s above 140,” says Freeman. “We’re not exactly sure why blood pressure rises, but we do know the risk factors. Sedentary lifestyle, too much salt and too much stress can all increase those numbers.” Additionally, although some might experience mild symptoms, like headaches, hypertension is often called “the silent killer,” because symptoms are usually nonexistent—that’s why it’s important to check that number regularly.

How to measure: Every few months or so, get a new reading. In addition to the doctor’s office, some pharmacies offer blood pressure readings. Cuffs can also be purchased for at-home readings.

How to Have Healthy Heart Numbers

Since the heart is involved in nearly all bodily functions, it’s important to keep that hard-working muscle primed and healthy. Freeman says experts have discovered four ways to positively impact your cardiovascular function:

#1: Diet. An “unprocessed plant-based diet” is the best way to eat for a healthy heart, says Freeman. Reduce the amount of fatty foods in your diet, and increase the amount of plant-based foods, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains. “Most of us aren’t nearly eating the fruits and vegetables we should be,” says Freeman.

#2: Exercise. Your heart needs to pump to get healthier, and this means “30 minutes of brisk activity a day,” says Freeman. “It doesn’t matter what age you are. Get moving, in a way that you’re mildly short of breath for at least a half hour.”

#3: Unwind. Stress is unavoidable: work gets crazy, the kids are sick, you fight with your best friend. And that stress will tax your heart, raise your blood pressure and put you at risk for various cardiovascular conditions. “Focus on 30 minutes a day of mindful practice, whether that’s meditating, praying, or reading,” he says. “Whatever helps you relax and unwind.”

#4: Support. The heart represents love, which is a good way to remember that you need to focus on people and relationships to have the healthiest cardiac functioning. “We’re not totally sure why, but those who don’t have love and support, and those who suffer from loneliness, tend to have poor outcomes,” says Freeman. Make sure to spend time with loved ones, make new friends, and join into the community.

It’s important to have a lot of awareness when it comes to your body, both in the impact of your actions and ways to counteract everyday stressors. Monitor your key health metrics, add simple positive habits into your lifestyle, and you’re already on your way to a much healthier heart.

44 Comments   Join the Conversation

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  • Is there a correlation between resting heart rate and blood pressure? I have a resting HR of about 60. But does that also mean I have low blood pressure or are they not the same thing?

    • I too have a low resting heart rate, usually mid 50s. I also have border-line high blood pressure even though I am doing all the right things. Any advice on how to lower it?

    • I am 68yr male 5’8” 143lbs who
      Works out 3-4 days a week. My question is am I peaking to much
      running my heart rate up to 168 for
      23 minutes of a 50 minute workout.
      Rest heart rate is 49-54. Thanks

  • It seems since I rec’d my Fitbit Alta at Christmas that my BP and heart rate climbed high. I have not done any physical activity since then I am 86 . Could there be any connection?

  • I always wear my fitbit alta HR as it keeps me motivated to move and a check on my Heart Rate.

    The best product I have ever bought. I had a fitbit charge 2 but I prefer the smaller one.

  • I am 83 and normally pretty fit and exercise nearly every day. The last 2/3 months have been very stressful with a prolonged cold/chesty time as well as other stresses. Have given up alcohol/butter/mayo for Lent!!!!!! and will be working back to my normal exercise- walking and going to gym etc so by Easter should be back to normal. Wonder if anyone will comment on this!!!!!!

  • Hi my name is Viv I am 70 yrs old this September I go running on a Friday Monday I go swimming Tue & Wednesday I do a 50 minute workout with clubbercise my usual pulse rate is about 49 to 56 is that ok for my age but I have to work really hard to get it up to about 120 is this normal

    • My resting heart rate is sometimes as low as 49, but normally between 53 & 57. I am 73years old, fairly active as walk around 13,000 steps per day average and cycle (gently) when the weather is not too bad.

  • I have recently had a Cardiac Ablation in the last 12 months and heart function has been fine.my problem is when i visit the G P I suffer from white coat syndrome my B/P is always high.

  • hi I’m 68 always always exercised played football till I was 45 then it was the gym. I now go to the gym 5 days a week and have the weekend off I train 3 days cardio and 2 days weights 1 hour a day and always train hard my resting H/R is 51. I have just had a wellman check up at my doctors and my blood pressure was fine.

  • Some of The dietary advice supplied by Freeman is outdated. Legumes and whole gratis contain Lectins That actually attack The heart’s own defenses thru toxic proteins That cause inflamation (se Gundry’s ” The plant paradox”)

  • Hi Jenna, Go Blue, I moved from A.A. to so. central KY- different world, I think I need your book. My RHR is 58 and my BP is 90 over 60. I do have some health issues but I am too positive to let them slow me down. Thanks for your info. I depend on my Charge 2 for data for my docs.

  • Dear Ms. Birch: Please ask Fitbit to include a Blood Pressure app for logging BP or better a wireless device interface like the fitbit scale.

    Thank you

  • Hi Jenna, Great Article , I enjoy revisiting the “ basics “ to make sure I am
    doing due diligence and taking responsibility for My
    health to the extent possible. I try to Focus and Learn when possible ..

  • I am 69 years old. I am on my second Pig Valve for the Aortic Valve. The last one was replaced Jan. of 2015
    I have been experiencing shortness of breath upon excretion for the last 8 months. My resting heart beat is usually in the high 60’s. If I walk 100 steps my heart beat goes up to 100 and I have to take a 5 minute break. I have a Fitbit Charge 2. My doctors just gave me a nuclear stress test. They found some blockage by my heart towards the lungs. So they went in with a camera thru my wrist. The Cardiac Doctor said everything is working fine. But I keep saying to myself no way. I have been going to St. Luke’s Hospital in Milwaukee, WI. Which I believe is a great Heart Hospital. My Trust Attorney told me I should go the Mayo Clinic in MN.
    What are your thoughts?
    Thank You in Advance
    Leonard N.

  • I am a male who is in the gym every day! I do 3 miles and several weight machines. Bench press and other. I can’t quit! Became s personal trainer at 66. I am a mentor to my young friends. U can stay fit be fit and enjoy your life style. I am 77 yrs old. With the body of a 35 yr old.

  • Hi Lorna,
    This is the second time tonight that I have written this. I am 62 was a professional ski coach, Director of a Psychiatric clinic and a gym owner.
    I am now 62 and besides a few aches and pains from my ski days(which I still do on a regular basis am doing well) I am trying to beat my grand mother who lived to 105 years old.

    My gym was for 55 and over with medical problems. I don’t believe an occasional glass of wine or a little butter or mayo will make a great difference MODERATION not SACRIFICE.
    You will get back and don’t try to kill yourself to get there.
    All the best and good luck

  • It is advised here to minimise fats in diet. This seems to go contrary to the advice of ketogenic diet, nowadays recommended.

  • Hi I know that I suffer from low blood pressure although according to my Fitbit RHR recently my weekly avg. has been 55. However I have notic d over the last 3 weeks my RHR often rises tover 74 to 98 with minimal exercise and sometimes when sitting. Is this normal please.
    Many thanks,
    Hazel McLaren

  • Hi I know that I suffer from low blood pressure although according to my Fitbit RHR recently my weekly avg. has been 55. However I have noticed over the last 3 weeks my RHR often rises to 74 to 98 with minimal exercise and sometimes when sitting. Is this normal please?

    Many thanks,
    Hazel McLaren

  • Wonderful advice. After a heart operation, I make a point of practicing all 4. They are working, with low pulse and blood pressure.

  • Thank you for the article. It helped me understand more about resting heart rate and blood pressure. It is clear that both are critically important. I like that my fit bit tracks my resting heart rate. Is there a reason fitbit does not allow me to enter and track my blood pressure? Thanks.

  • My son gifted me Fitbit Charge 2 brought it from US. I liked it very much. It keep me alert about heart rate , exercise, sleep. My heart rate is normally around 60. But some time on some day it touches about more 120 for few minuts. Blade pressure also more than 140. I am not able to understand this inspite of taking medicines. Any guidance on this matter would be appreciated.

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