How to Determine Your Heart Rate

Your heart rate, also known as your pulse, is the number of times your heart beats per minute. Before starting a fitness regime, your health assessment should include a measure of your resting heart rate — your heart rate when you’re sitting still.

Ideally, your resting heart rate should be between 60 and 90 beats per minute. It may be slower if you’re fit or genetically predisposed to a low heart rate; it may be faster if you’re nervous or have recently downed three double cappuccinos. In addition to caffeine, stress and certain medications can speed up your heart rate. To be sure, take your heart rate first thing in the morning for three consecutive days and find the average to determine your heart rate.

After a month or two of regular exercise, your resting heart rate usually drops. This means that your heart has become more efficient. It may need to beat only 70 to 80 times per minute to pump the same amount of blood (or more) than it used to pump in 90 beats. In the long run, this saves wear and tear on your heart.

Taking your pulse manually

The simplest place to take your own pulse is at your wrist. Follow these steps:

  1. Rest your middle and index fingertips (not your thumb) lightly on your opposite wrist, directly below the base of your thumb.

    Most people can see the faint bluish line of their radial artery; place your fingertips here.

  2. Count the number of beats for 1 minute.

    Or, if you have a short attention span, count for 30 seconds and multiply by 2. For a really, really short attention span, count for 6 seconds and multiply by 10.

Using a heart-rate monitor

An even easier and faster way to measure your pulse is to strap on a heart-rate monitor. With a monitor, you don’t need to stop exercising or take the time to count anything. At any given moment you can find out your heart rate by glancing at your wrist. A good monitor can cost less than $50. The really fancy ones cost $200 or more. They offer features such as a clock, a timer, and an alarm that you can set to beep when you wander out of your target zone.

The most accurate type of monitor is the chest-strap variety. You hook an inch-wide strap around your chest. This strap acts as an electrode to measure the electrical activity of your heart. This information is then translated into a number, which is transmitted via radio signals to a wrist receiver that looks like a watch with a large face.

Most of the cardio equipment in gyms is now “heart-rate-monitor compatible.” The machines pick up the signal from the monitor, and your heart rate pops up on the display console, so you don’t have to wear the wrist watch.

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