Thursday, 3 January 2013

Resting Heart Rate - A Measure of Fitness, Illness and Improvement.

By Elizabeth Greentree

It is important for overall health to know when you can train hard, and when you should give your body a bit of a break. One of the most effective ways to do this is by understanding your own individual heart rate patterns. By understanding some basic terms and concepts about heart rate, you will be able to exercise more effectively and reduce injury and over training.

To design and implement any sort of serious exercise program it is essential to understand your own heart rate, maximum heart rate, anaerobic thresholds and your resting heart rate.

The speed that your heart pumps blood around the body is measured in beats per minute (bpm). As more blood is required by muscles, etc., your heart will pump faster. Keep in mind that your heart rate will be higher when your body is also stressed, sick or working ineffectively, so high heart rate is not always a good thing.

The measure of your baseline health and fitness is your resting heart rate. This shows how hard your heart has to work just in order to maintain your body without any extra demands on it. One of the most important reasons to exercise is to train your body to be able to do more with less effort. As such, generally speaking, as you get fitter, your resting heart rate will go down. Your heart will be able to pump more blood with less effort.

As such, knowing your resting heart rate at the beginning of a program will give you an indication of your current fitness and whether you improve.

The best time to measure your resting heart rate is when you wake up, before getting out of bed. All you need is a watch that can count seconds. It is also possible to take it after any extended period of lying down, for example if you had been watching TV, as long as it wasn't too exciting.

There are two places you can easily find your pulse. First is the radial artery on your wrist just below your thumb. This is not as strong, but easy to find. Remember to only use your index and middle finger to feel for the artery, as your thumb has its own pulse and can confuse the counting. The other place is your carotid artery in your neck, which can be found on either side of your throat.

Once you have found the pulse and can count it, time yourself for ten seconds and count the number of beats, starting at 'zero'. Multiple this number by 10 and you have the beats per minutes. You can also use other divisions of 60 such as 10 seconds and multiple by 6, or 30 and times by 2 etc.

The general ranges are: Below 60 = fit, 60-80 = average, 80-100 = high but still okay, and 101+ is not good and you should talk to your doctor.

It is best to record your heart rate every morning for a week to try and get an average as its quite easy to have an unusual reading, such as waking up after a nightmare, or falling back asleep as you count.

One final point is that if you are serious and are pushing yourself hard, for personal reasons or because you are a competitive athlete, then you should take your heart rate every morning upon waking. An increase in resting heart rate of 10bpm or more indicates that your body is stressed, either fighting an illness or from being overtrained. You should therefore reduce training on these days, which will help you to remain injury and sickness free.

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