The Nitty-Gritty on Resting Heart Rate and Your Health


You probably already know that resting heart rate (RHR) is the number of times your heart beats or squeezes in the absence of exertion. You might also know that, generally, the fewer beats your heart makes during periods when you’re awake and relaxed, the better. But beyond that, it’s probably not something you think a whole lot about.

According to Allan S. Stewart, MD, Director of Aortic Surgery and Co-Director of the Valve Center in the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at The Mount Sinai Hospital, your resting heart rate is worth paying attention to for the myriad of ways it can be an indicator of your overall health. Here’s the nitty gritty on this little number.

Calculate your resting heart rate in the morning

There’s no better time to calculate resting heart rate than after rest. Check your RHR just before you hop out of bed in the morning, right after a good night’s sleep—you can do this manually if your Fitbit tracker doesn’t offer PurePulse heart rate tracking. “The easiest place to feel your heartbeat is on the wrist or the neck,” says Stewart. “Simply counting the number of beats for a minute to give you the number.” For kids over age 10 and adults, the normal heart rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute (bpm). Endurance athletes tend to have lower resting heart rates, with numbers ranging from around 40 to 60 bpm.

RHR could tell you if you’re out of shape

If your resting heart rate is on the high side, closer to 100 bpm, “you may just be deconditioned,” says Stewart. Yes, that means “out of shape.” That high number is your body hinting that you might want to start an exercise program. Continue tracking your RHR every morning (manually or in your Fitbit app dashboard) as you start working out more frequently—and you should begin to notice a downward trend. “It is exciting and infectious to notice the lowering of your heart rate with each passing week of physical exercise,” Stewart says.

To improve your RHR, choose an endurance exercise

There is no magical exercise to reduce your RHR quickly, so Stewart says to choose some endurance exercises that sounds appealing. “Swimming, cycling, jogging, walking and elliptical are all good choices for heart health,” he explains. “You want 30 or 40 minutes of heart-elevating exercise at least four days a week to start.” Ideally, you want to reach 50% of your maximum heart rate with each workout, which you can find by subtracting your age from 220 bpm. So for a 40-year-old woman, that’s 180bpm. Half that value, 90bpm, should be your goal heart rate while exercising. (You’ll see this noted as your Cardio Zone on your PurePulse-equipped Fitbit tracker and in your dashboard on the Fitbit app.) You should always check with your doctor before starting any new exercise regimen to make sure it’s safe for you.

Take note if your heart rate is high with palpitations or shortness of breath

Exercise can naturally result in a much higher heart rate, but there are some instances in which caution should be taken as you ramp up a new fitness routine. Seniors especially should pay attention to high heart rates with shortness of breath and fluttery or jumpy feelings in the chest during activity. “This may be due to a thickening of the valve that sits between the pumping portion of the heart and the tube that carries blood to the rest of the body,” Stewart says. “The so-called aortic valve is like a thumb on a garden hose. As you tighten that pressure, the heart must work harder for blood to come out.” Another possible reason for a high heart rate is an arrhythmia, most commonly atrial fibrillation. “This condition means that the electrical system of the heart has gone a bit haywire,” Stewart explains. “The result is that the top of the heart is not properly communicating with the bottom of the heart. Your heart rate at rest may jump to 150 to 180 bpm and you may feel palpitations.” These symptoms could require a visit to the doctor.

A low resting heart rate can create a fantastic snowball effect

Many people dislike exercise for one simple reason: It’s hard! But when you set a goal to get moving, thankfully, you should see some really awesome effects. “You will notice improved endurance and easier breathing with exertion,” Stewart says. “More importantly, the effect will continue to support itself; as your resting heart rate becomes lower, your endurance will increase, and you will welcome routine exercise.” Isn’t that cool? Easier exercise means you’ll want to keep it up. You may lose weight, notice more energy, and “the whole cycle will empower you to continue with the process,” says Stewart. “A lower resting heart rate will diminish the stress on your valves, reduce the strain on the heart muscle, lower your blood pressure, and reduce coronary artery disease.”

The end result is a healthier you “that will live longer and live better,” says Stewart—all because you sought to lower your RHR. Pretty cool, right?


11 Comments   Join the Conversation

11 CommentsLeave a comment

  • How about more information directed to seniors. Many/most of my senior friends are wearing se type of fitness device.

    • Hi,I am a senior And can’not find out information on how to tell what range,My heart number should be.while resting and moving.can I get any information on what my numbers should be.Thanking you.

  • 50% of Max Heart Rate puts you in your Fat Burn Zone, not your Cardio Zone as indicated in “To improve your RHR, choose an endurance exercise” section above. Cardio Zone starts at 70% of MHR.

  • I do think it is important to know your resting heart rate to see if it is normal or if there may be cause for concern regarding your physical condition. Great information, thanks for sharing!

  • My resting heart rate is around 90, with blood pressure 106-118/64-80. It’s been this way for decades. I alarm my Red Cross 1st Aid partners with the heart rate, as they expect me to be having something wrong. Plus or minus 30 lbs and this remains unchanged. Oddly enough I’m usually exhausted, whether I’m in a regular exercise phase or now, in the 2nd least fit time of my life. What’s up with the fast heart rate, and why doesn’t it match my blood pressure? Shouldn’t they both be either high or low?

    • Hi Samm. For a comprehensive explanation of your specific heart rate and blood pressure readings, we recommend reaching out to your primary doctor. For a better understanding of heart rate and how Fitbit measures this, please check out this Fitbit help article for more info.

  • Was looking all over for an article like this. Being a senior citizen who never had time to take care of health, and now I’d like to, so I bought a Charge 2.

    Found out all the info is very generalized and no considerations given to those who are aged or overweigh or both.

    I would hate to follow your standards for a vigorous workout in order to get in shape only to wake up dead. IYKWIM.

    Perhaps, given that you asked for age on setup, you could put flags or alarms when approaching high rates given the age or obesity. Maybe some guidelines as well, but the ability to set HR Alarms by the user would be helpful and eliminate the potential of the drop dead syndrome. 🙂

    Can you imagine the sales potential for the geriatrics in using these devices for longevity’s sake, for their grandkids, or kids?

    Please broaden your scope and horizon’s of helpfulness.

    Nice product BTW.

  • Echoing some of Steve’s comments, I have a history of heart palpitations. Is there a way that my Fitbit Charge 2 can detect them and alert me?

  • I wish to show thanks to you just for bailing me out of this particular trouble. I am not sure the health issues that I might have gone through without the type of information revealed by you regarding that situation. I’d appreciate it.

  • The information is simply superb for basic knowledge. All along I was worried as my RHR is between 54 to 60 with a regular brisk walking of one hour a day and I wished to visit cardiologist.
    At the same time while walking my bpm is in the range of 130 to 145. Please let me know whether this is good or not. for information I underwent CABG (Bypass surgery) on 9th January 2017.

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