Have you ever wanted a quick and easy snapshot of your health at any given moment that doesn’t involve any tests or procedures, and doesn’t cost a thing? Well you’re in luck! With just two fingers, and the ability to count, you can get a better understanding of your health in real time. Let me introduce you to: your heart rate.
Check your heart rate
The easiest ways to find your pulse tend to be on the inside of your wrist (on the same side as your thumb) and side of your neck (imagine a straight line from the end of your eye down your neck). Simply place your pointer and middle finger on your pulse, and count the number of beats that occurs in 60 seconds. For more accurate results, check this when you wake up in the morning before you’ve gotten out of bed.
Why does it matter?
Heart rate in its simplest definition is the number of times your heart beats in one minute. Your resting heart rate in particular, is when you are not engaging in any physical activity (think laying down in your bed, sitting on the couch, etc.). This number basically indicates how hard your body has to work to pump blood when you are not exercising. It can be assumed that the more “athletic” you are or “in shape”, your resting heart rate will be lower because your heart muscle is healthy and doesn’t have to work hard to keep blood pumping. Someone who is less in shape may have a higher resting heart rate because their heart muscle needs to work hard to keep the blood flowing. Often times, these individuals are at greatest risk for heart disease or premature death (American Heart Association, 2015).
How low can you go?
Well, it’s no surprise that they key to achieving a healthy resting heart rate is… physical activity. To achieve optimal results, this physical activity should be in the form of vigorous exercise. This could be in the form of running, biking, swimming, or fast walking. The American Heart Association suggests individuals over the age of 18 should be engaging in approximately 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. This type of physical activity involves increased blood flow, and over time, the heart adapts to this greater volume of blood. Then, when you’re not engaging in physical activity, the heart is able to pump a larger amount of blood with a single beat. This results in less beats overall, or a lower resting heart rate. Other ways to get your resting heart rate down include reducing your stress levels through things such as meditation and mindfulness, and avoiding any tobacco products.
It should be noted that many things can influence your heart rate (age, genetics, medications, presence of any medical conditions) and you should always consult your doctor before making any changes that can affect your heart.
Written by GUADS staff member Emily with contributions from the American Heart Association and www.health.harvard.edu