trainer and client looking at fitness assessment on ipad
trainer and client looking at fitness assessment on ipad

Resting Heart Rate

Resting heart rate is a widely used measure to indirectly determine the health of the cardiovascular system. It is often used in conjunction with resting blood pressure to evaluate an individual’s future risk of developing disorders and diseases of the cardiovascular system, like hypertension, heart disease, strokes and heart attacks.

Measuring resting heart rate is a relatively simple process and it requires little to no expertise or equipment. The information supplied by regularly measuring and monitoring resting heart rate can be invaluable when trying to improve both health and fitness. In the context of disease prevention and management, it quite literally could be life-saving.


man holding cut out of a heart which shows heart rate


What is Resting Heart Rate?

Heart rate, which is also known as pulse rate, describes the number of times the heart beats in a minute. Heart rate is usually expressed as beats per minute, or BPM.

Heart rate is important because it quantified the direct work that the heart must do in order to supply blood, oxygen and other nutrients to all of the body’s tissues. When heart rate is elevated, it usually implies that there is some disruption to this supply. This could be because the arteries are stiffer, preventing them from stretching (dilating), because they are narrower (occluded), which may be because of fatty deposits, or because the demand for oxygen and nutrients has increased, as would be the case during exercise or periods of physical, mental or emotional stress.

Resting heart rate simply describes the number of times that the heart beats in a minute while the body is in a rested state. If the heart is increased at rest, there is a much greater chance that during exercise or exertion, there will be a shortage of oxygen and nutrients being delivered. It is the severity and location of this shortage that determines the risk and type of cardiovascular disorder that presents. For example, if the blood in the coronary arteries of the heart is restricted, then the person may suffer a heart attack (myocardial infarction).

The typical resting heart rate of a healthy adult would be between 60-80 BPM. Those who exercise frequently, especially when they perform aerobic or cardiovascular activities like running, cycling, swimming etc, are more likely to have lower resting heart rates. This is because the heart’s muscle tissue, or myocardium, becomes much stronger and so it is able to pump blood out of the heart with more force. Conversely, if the heart is weaker, then it needs to pump more often because each beat carries less blood.

Tachycardia is a medical term to describe a resting heart rate that is greater than 100 BPM. This can be an sign of a cardiovascular disorder, like hypertension or arrythmia (abnormal heart rhythm), but it can equally be brought about by anxiety and stress. Tachycardia may also present as a result of a condition known as supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), which is usually managed successfully with medication, although surgery and other procedures are sometimes necessary.

Bradycardia is another medical term used to describe a resting heart rate that is lower than 60 BPM. This is typically not something that causes concern or symptoms and is common amongst regular exercisers and elite-level athletes. However, it is important to have a medical professional investigate the cause of bradycardia before forming any definitive conclusions. Sometimes, bradycardia can be caused by other more sinister factors, like a disturbance of the heart’s conduction network, the pace maker, thyroid dysfunction or because of the onset of heart disease.

anatomical model of a heart


Measuring Resting Heart Rate

It is important to measure resting heart rate frequently in order to safeguard many of the cardiovascular disorders and diseases that can present as a consequence of lifestyle (e.g. smoking, alcohol consumption, poor diet and/or being sedentary).

It is possible to measure resting heart rate with a heart rate monitor, which is something that most smartwatches are now equipped with. However, it is just as easy to take a manual measurement at the wrist from the radial pulse if you do not have a heart rate monitor.

From a rested and relaxed state with at least 5 minutes of sitting, complete the following three steps to measure resting heart rate:

  1. Gently place the first two fingers on to the opposite wrists at the base of the thumb. Find the edge of the radius bone in the forearm and more the fingers on toward the inside until you feel a soft pulsating feeling under the skin. It’s important not to use the thumb to measure because there is a pulse in the thumb.
  2. Count the number of pulses/beats in a 15 second period and multiply this number by 4. This will provide a beats per minute value. Alternatively, it is possible to count for 30-seconds and multiply the number by 2. Generally speaking, however, the longer the period of measurement, the greater the potential for miscounting.
  3. Compare the beats per minute value to the data on the classification data below.


Test your resting heart using this calculator:

Resting Heart Rate Classification

As previously stated, a typical and healthy resting heart rate for an adult would be between 60-80 BPM. The table below provides a summary of different classifications of resting heart rate values for both men and women.


18-25 26-35 36-45 46-55 56-65 65+ Rating
49-55 49-54 50-56 50-57 51-56 50-55 Athlete-Level
56-61 55-61 57-62 58-63 57-61 56-61 Excellent
62-65 62-65 63-66 64-67 62-67 62-65 Good
66-69 66-70 67-70 68-71 68-71 66-69 Above Average
70-73 71-74 71-75 72-76 72-75 70-73 Average
74-81 75-81 76-82 77-83 76-81 74-79 Below Average
82+ 82+ 83+ 84+ 82+ 80+ Poor


18-25 26-35 36-45 46-55 56-65 65+ Rating
54-60 54-59 54-59 54-60 54-59 54-59 Athlete-Level
61-65 60-64 60-64 61-65 60-64 60-64 Excellent
66-69 65-68 65-68 66-69 65-68 65-68 Good
70-73 69-72 70-73 70-73 69-73 69-72 Above Average
74-78 73-76 74-78 74-77 74-77 73-76 Average
79-84 77-82 79-84 78-83 78-83 77-84 Below Average
85+ 83+ 85+ 84+ 84+ 84+ Poor

It is important to note that that the athlete-level classifications should only be considered valid if the exercise history, background and age support this resting heart rate classification. If for example a participant is largely sedentary, deconditioned and/or has a number of lifestyle factors that are generally detrimental to cardiovascular health (e.g. poor diet, smoking, stress, excessive alcohol intake), then a low resting heart rate should be investigated by a primary care clinician (e.g. G.P).

Resting Heart Rate

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