Is there really such a thing as a normal heart rate?


Fast, slow or irregular, what should your normal heart rate be and when is the best time to take your pulse?

Jan, 26: For most of the time, you probably never give your heart beating away a second thought.

That’s of course until you fall ill or suspect you might be suffering with a heart-related health issue.

“Many people don’t know what their heart rate is or what it should be,” says Dr Anthony Nathan, a cardiac consultant at Spire Bushey Hospital in Hertfordshire.

“Although there’s no need to be obsessed with your heart rate, it’s worth taking your pulse every so often so you know what your ‘normal’ is. It can then help indicate if something’s wrong later on.

“I take my own heart rate every six months or so to gauge if anything has changed. It’s a good habit to get into.”

Dr Nathan says you should take your resting heart rate, which is best done first thing in the morning, before you begin your day’s activities. You can measure it at your wrist, inside your elbow or the side of your neck by holding your finger over where you feel your pulse and counting the number of beats you feel during a minute. If you’re keen to keep a closer eye on it, especially if you’re tracking your fitness level, you can buy a monitor to chart it.

Once you know your heart rate, what can it tell you? Here we answer some common questions about your heartbeat.

pulse rate

What should your heart rate be?

It used to be thought that a normal resting heart rate is somewhere between 60-100 beats per minute (bpm). Many experts now believe that 60-80bpm is a more healthy level. However some people naturally have a lower or more rapid pulse. Your heart rate can alter as you get older as well and it can also indicate a change to your health. If your resting rate is consistently below 40bpm or above 120bmp, you should see your GP to check if that’s normal for you.

What are the reasons for a slow heartbeat?

Because your heart is a muscle, the more aerobic exercise you do, the stronger it becomes. It means that the fitter you are, the lower your resting heart rate will be. An elite athlete, for instance, may have a resting heart rate of below 40bpm. It’s lower because the heart muscle is stronger and doesn’t have to work so hard keeping up a steady beat to push blood around the body.

Should you worry about a fast heart rate?

Various factors can raise your heart rate, ranging from exercise to drinking too many caffeine-fuelled drinks. It could also rise if you’re suffering with a fever or have an overactive thyroid; medications and other types of drugs can cause it to “race” too. But doctors say the most common cause is stress and anxiety.

Is your heart rate linked to blood pressure?

If you’re exercising or feeling anxious, both your heart rate and blood pressure normally increase. But even if your resting heart rate is within the normal limits, this doesn’t necessarily mean your blood pressure is, too, as your blood pressure is very different from your heart rate. Your blood pressure is the force needed to push your blood along the arteries in your body, while your heart rate is how many times this happens each minute. Although this process requires a certain amount of pressure, if it becomes too high over a sustained period, it can cause your heart to become enlarged. This could eventually lead to heart failure.

Should you worry about an irregular heartbeat?

Sometimes your heartbeat can become erratic because of a fault with the electrical impulse that makes the heart’s chambers contract in readiness to pump blood. You might only notice this if you feel a palpitation or slight fluttering in your chest as your heart misses a beat. Usually it’s a passing sensation and nothing to worry about, but if it happens frequently, it can be more significant.

It might, for example, indicate you have atrial fibrillation, the most common cause of an erratic heartbeat. It’s often caused by an underlying heart condition or high blood pressure, but can be treated with medication, surgery or even fitting a pacemaker to restore the natural rhythm.

An irregularity with the electrical system of the heart can also cause it to beat too slowly. For instance, a condition known as a heart block is when electrical impulses that cause the heart to contract are delayed, meaning the rhythm is slowed down in varying degrees of seriousness. Often present from birth, it can be picked up with an electrocardiogram (ECG) test. THE TELEGRAPH