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What's a normal heart rate? Here's the answer...

Plus some tips to help you understand a healthy heart rate and a selection of the best heart rate monitors

The average heart beats over two billion times in a lifetime! The normal heart rate for average adults ranges between 60 to 100 beats per minute. When you are sleeping your rate will be lower - it's not uncommon to see a resting heart rate of 50 - 90 beats per minute in a sleeping adult.

Generally speaking, the better your fitness levels, the lower your normal resting heart rate will be.

Another measure of cardiac fitness is how quickly your heart rate returns to resting rate when you stop exercising. The faster it returns to your normal heart rate the better.

Your exercising heart rate

As you exercise, your heart rate speeds up in order to get more blood, and hence more oxygen, to your muscles.

One way to determine your optimal target heart rate for exercise is to subtract your age from 220 (this is because our maximum heart rate decreases as we grow older). This will tell you your maximum heart rate. Multiply that number by .6 and by .8 to get your target zone while exercising.

For example, if you are 57 (220-57=163) your maximum rate is 163 and your target zone (163x.6=97.8, 163x.8=130.4) when working out is 98 - 130 beats per minute.

If you participated in a cardiac rehab program you may have been given a target heart rate for your exercise program. Go with that target.

If you develop shortness of breath, chest tightness, or dizziness along with rapid heart rate while exercising, stop immediately and seek medical help.

How to take your pulse

You can measure your pulse any place on the body where an artery is close to the surface. For example, most people measure their pulse at the wrist or neck but it can also be measured at the temple, groin, back of the knees, and on top or inner side of the foot.

To take your pulse using the artery at your wrist, place the index and middle finger over the underside of your wrist at the base of your thumb. You may have to feel around until you can feel the pulse. Press firmly with your two fingers and count the beats for 30 seconds, then multiply by two.

To take your pulse from the artery in your neck (I find this easier), place the index and middle finger on the neck between the center (Adam's apple) and the side. Again, you may have to feel around a bit until you locate the artery and feel the pulse. Count the beats for 30 seconds and multiply by two.

If you find this too difficult or too much of a bother to monitor your normal heart rate, there are many easy-to-use heart monitors to choose from.

Heart rate too slow?

Bradycardia - abnormally slow rhythms - is said to occur when the normal heart rate drops below 50 beats per minute (except while sleeping). Although some elite athletes may have such a slow heart rate and still be healthy, a low heart rate should be investigated and a pacemaker may be required.

The symptoms of bradycardia re fatigue, shortness of breath, and light-headedness. This is because your body is not receiving an adequate blood supply. Unfortunately these symptoms are commonly due to other causes too.

If you have these symptoms and/or if your normal heart rate is very slow, seek medical attention.

Heart rate too fast?

Tachycardia - abnormally fast rhythms - causes symptoms including palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain (angina), and light-headedness. Tachycardia can be very serious.

There a number of different types of tachycardia - some more life threatening than others but the good news is there are medications to help regulate the heart rate if you have tachycardia. Talk to your medical team.

To sum it all up

Just as we are all unique, your normal heart rate is individual to you. The important thing if you are living with heart disease is to talk to your doctor if you experience anything out of the ordinary ranges. And make sure you are treating your heart right - don't smoke, eat a heart healthy diet,exercise, and reduce your stress.

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