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What Is a Good Heart Rate?

The basic measure of heart rate is resting heart rate, taken when you’ve been still and quiet for an extended time — people often check this upon waking. This is the heart rate that gets very low in elite athletes. Lance Armstrong’s resting heart at his peak was said to be 32! In elite athletes, these low rates reflect the very high efficiency of the heart muscle, but in people who are not active, such a low heart rate could suggest a problem with the signaling to the heart.

A normal resting heart rate is around 60 beats per minute to around 100, but that upper end can indicate health problems. There’s been a lot of discussion over where the cutoff is for “on the high end — let’s see if something else is going on,” that seems to be settling around the 85ish range. People who exercise regularly often see their resting heart rates drift down as their conditioning improves, and it’s common for even non-elite athletes to see their heart rates drop into the 40s if they are consistent and train sensibly.

Should I Track Resting Heart Rate?

Probably. It can be fun to track if you are making a new commitment to exercise, because over time you will see it drift down as you get in better shape. This kind of measurement is an excellent example of a “non-scale victory” — a way to keep track of your progress without getting hung up on the number of pounds (or kilos) you weigh.

If you like to exercise at least a bit every day, it can be a handy thing to check daily — if your resting heart rate drifts up by around 10%, you could be coming down with an illness or just need more rest. Knowing what’s normal for you means you can adjust your plans for the day, if needed.

You can measure your heart rate easily with a clock that has a second hand or a timer: find your pulse in your neck or wrist, count the beats for 20 seconds, and multiply by three. Or if you lose count easily, like I do, try a smartphone appInstant Heart Rate by Azumio is one of several that use your phone’s camera flash to measure your pulse in your fingertip. Some sleep tracking apps, like Sleep Cycle, have an option to offer a heart rate measure after you turn off the alarm. (I’ll be honest, though, I feel too jangly right after the alarm goes to want to know my heart rate right then!)

Image is of a human heart carafe, designed by Liviana Osti.

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