Understanding Your Heart Rate

While there are many medical devices that can measure heart rates, in reality all you need is a good timer and your fingers to check your own heart rate.  While this will be covered later, the main goal of this post is to help people understand what an individual’s heart rate is and how it relates to their health.

A person’s heart rate is typically measured in beats per minute, or as is commonly known as BPM.  Each time your heart beats, it is represented in the BPM formula.  The way BPM is measured is through a person’s pulse, which is why determining a person’s heart rate is also referred to as their pulse rate.

The number of times a heart beats per minute can be quickly determined with a watch, which measures time in seconds, and two fingers.  Since the thumb has a pulse, it is preferred to check your heart rate with your index and middle fingers.  In the illustration that follows, you can more clearly determine the appropriate position of your fingers.

There are two common locations to check your pulse at, which includes the wrist and the neck.  The radial pulse refers to the pulse in the wrist and the carotid pulse refers to the pulse in the neck.  It is important to note that checking the pulse in the neck requires care as pressing too hard may cause restricted blood flow to the brain and cause the individual to become light headed.  In the illustration below, the appropriate locations of the body to check ones pulse is clearly identified.

Radial Pulse and Carotid Pulse Locations
Now that you understand where to check your pulse at, all you need to do is use a timer or watch to count the beats during a short period of time.  In most cases, people do not check their pulse for a full sixty seconds.  Instead, they use a timer to determine how many beats they feel in ten seconds and multiply that by six.  Especially for those not familiar with taking their pulse, it is advisable to count the beats in a thirty second period and multiply that by two so that a more precise reading may be obtained.

While determining ones heart rate is important for health and for fitness, for the purpose of this article we are focusing on health.  Therefore, it is important to check your heart rate when rested.  This is commonly referred to in the medical industry as the “resting heart rate.”  Depending on the age, health and fitness of the subject, a normal heart rate should be between 60-100 BPM.  Since the heart beats to supply blood and oxygen to the entire body, a healthier heart rate will typically be at the lower end of the spectrum.  In fact, well trained athletes can actually have a BPM of 50 and even less.  Ultimately, a stronger heart is capable of moving more blood and oxygen through the body with fewer beats.

Understanding what your resting heart rate is can be especially useful if you monitor your heart rate regularly.  Testing your own heart rate can help identify an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), a low heart rate (bradycardia) or an elevated heart rate (tachycardia).  Any of these conditions can be quite serious and should be discussed with a physician as soon as possible.

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