How fast does your heart beat? It’s such a vital part of your body, and so many devices keep track of it for us. You don’t have to be at the hospital to know your heart rate anymore; your smartwatch or FitBit will do that for you. But when you see the number on the screen, do you know what it means?

Despite the fact that our hearts are responsible for keeping us alive, many of us aren’t aware of what a healthy heartbeat should be. If you’re registering 90 beats per minute (BPM) at work, is that good? What about at the gym, should it be as high as 160 BPM?

Don’t worry; as you’ve probably worked out, we’re here to tell you all about your heart rate and what it should be registering as. Take a look at your smartwatch – or just measure your pulse like in the old days – and see how you compare!


Resting heart rate

If you aren’t in the middle of doing exercise, your heart will be at rest and should be beating as such. On average, it will beat around 60 to 100 times per minute for the average adult. As you grow older, your resting heart rate will likely increase, whereas if you get fit and healthy it may decrease.

Everyone’s heart is slightly different, so if you are just starting out tracking your heart rate then this is the time to get an idea of how many beats it averages per minute. What’s important when it comes to resting heart rate is how it changes. If you see your average BPM increase or decrease, it could mean a number of things.

First of all, while 60 to 100 BPM is the average, athletes generally have a resting heart rate as low as 40 BPM. This is because their heart is so efficient at pumping blood around their body – due to their high level of cardiovascular fitness – that it no longer needs to beat as quickly. As you exercise and become fitter, you should find yourself approaching this range.

However, if you’re in the middle of a heavy period of exercise you might see your resting heart rate start to increase. This is because exercise is hard on the body and it needs time to recover. An increased resting heart rate indicates that you’re overtraining and need to take more of a rest period in between workouts.

In general, if your resting heart rate starts to increase, it’s a sign that something is wrong. Anything from sleep deprivation to dehydration can cause your heart to speed up, and in most cases it should be clear what’s wrong. Stress can also cause this. If you notice this happening, work out what’s causing it and take steps to fix it.


Working heart rate

If your heart should be averaging between 60 and 100 BPM while you’re resting, what should it be like while you’re in the middle of a tough workout? Exercise obviously makes your heart start pumping, so if you’re not seeing a good increase in your BPM then you’re not working hard enough!

Of course, you don’t want your heart to beat too fast while you’re exercising. Before you start, you should work out what your maximum heart rate should be. Don’t worry, there’s not a complicated formula for this; it’s just 220 minus your age. If you’re 30 years old, your maximum heart rate would therefore be 190 BPM.

Of course, you don’t want your heart to be beating this fast throughout your workout; if it is, you’re working much too hard. The British Heart Foundation recommends that you aim for between 50 per cent and 75 per cent of your maximum heart rate when you exercise.

For the example above – our 30-year-old with a maximum heart rate of 190 BPM – 50 per cent would be 95 BPM and 75 per cent would be 142.5 BPM. This is therefore the range they should aim for while exercising.

Again, this will differ from person to person. If you have any kind of heart condition, you must consult with your doctor before undertaking any exercise at all. However, as a rule you can use this method to work out what your heart rate should be while exercising, allowing you to get the right level of work in each time.

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