Woman checking heart rate on her smartwatch

What your resting heart rate means

With smartwatches and fitness trackers gaining popularity it’s easier than ever to monitor your resting heart rate.

But what exactly do the numbers mean and when could they be indicating potential heart health issues.

What is a normal heart rate?

A normal resting heart rate is between 60 to 100 beats per minute (bpm), though this can vary throughout the day and from person to person. For example, a trained athlete can have a resting heart rate around 40-50 bpm.

Generally, it’s better to have a lower resting heart rate as this can indicate improved heart function and physical fitness.

A 2010 study found that a resting heart rate of more than 84 bpm over a five year period was associated with a 55 percent increase in the risk of cardiovascular death and a 79 percent increase in death from any cause.

How do I check my heart rate?

To check your heart rate, lightly place your index and middle finger on the outer part of your wrist near the base of your thumb, or either side of your neck, until you can feel your pulse.

Count the number of beats in 30 seconds and multiply by two to get your heart rate per minute.

You can also check your heart rate with a fitness tracker, smartwatch, or a heart rate app.

What does it mean if my heart rate is higher than 100 beats per minute?

A heart beat higher than 100 bpm at rest is known as tachycardia.

This may be normal when related to periods of exercise or stress, but can also be a sign of a medical condition or arrhythmia (abnormal heart beat) that needs investigating.

What does it mean if my heart rate is lower than 60 beats per minute?

A heart rate lower than 60 bmp at rest is known as bradycardia.

A low heart rate can be normal in people such as athletes or those who are physically fit. Some medications, such as beta blockers, can also lower your heart rate.

If you have a low heart rate that is not normal for you, or you have a low heart rate and other symptoms such as dizziness, fainting etc you should see your doctor for investigation.

Is it normal for my heart rate to change throughout the day?

Yes, even in healthy individuals your heart rate is likely to fluctuate throughout the day due to a range of factors such as exercise, emotions (such as anxiety, stress, and excitement), hormones, and pregnancy.

Due to this fluctuation, recording your heart rate at different times of the day/week is a more accurate way to assess your average resting heart rather than a one-off reading.

How can I lower my resting heart rate?

If your resting heart rate is on the higher side of normal, the best thing you can do is to incorporate regular moderate intensity exercise into your routine, particularly activities like endurance training and yoga which research has shown to be particularly beneficial for lowering resting heart rate.

Other lifestyle changes that may reduce your resting heart rate include:

When should I be concerned about my heart rate?

If you are experiencing unexplained episodes of abnormally high or low resting heart rate, particularly if it is accompanied with other symptoms, such as chest pain, fatigue, dizziness and fainting, it is important to speak to your doctor.

If you consistently have a resting heart rate on the higher side of normal, e.g. 80-100 bpm, it is recommended to discuss this with your doctor as it may be a sign of future health risk.

Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years