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Know your pulse rate

Measure your resting pulse rate with a blood pressure monitor, or by counting the beats in your wrist or neck against the second hand of your watch.

Measuring pulse rate
Find out how to measure your pulse rate.

What you need to know is the number of beats per minute. Generally the lower it is, the fitter you are - unless you have a pacemaker or heart disease.

Pulse rate fluctuations

Your pulse rises to meet the demands of activity, then recovers as you rest. The degree of increase and decrease in pulse, and the speed of recovery increases as you get fitter.

You can calculate the optimum rise during exercise, and use a pulse monitor to maintain that level during your exercise spells and check your rate of recovery as you rest afterwards. Try recording your 'activity pulse' immediately after you complete your exercise, then your recovery pulse' two minutes later.

The difference between the two figures is a measure of your recovery rate. You can monitor your progress towards fitness by recording your recovery rates after the same spell of exercise each day.

If you set the level of your daily activity according to your pulse, you will gradually do more and get fitter quite safely with each exercise session - three 30-minute spells per week are sufficient.

You will quickly see improvements in your body fat and blood pressure measurement, and recovery of your pulse to resting levels. 

So what are 'normal' pulse rates?

The average resting heart rate for an adult is between 60 and 100 beats per minute, while well-conditioned athletes can achieve between 40 and 60 beats per minute. The maximum pulse rate is 220 minus your age, and the target for a healthy pulse rate during, or just after, exercise, is 60-80 per cent of this.

Therefore, if you are aged 50, you should aim to build up fitness gradually until you reach a target pulse rate during exercise of between 102-136 bpm (beats per minute).

If you are aged 55, your target should be between 99-132 bpm, age 60 = 96-128 bpm, age 65 = 93-124 bpm, age 70 = 90-120 bpm, and age 75 = 87-116 bpm.

Keeping track of your pulse rate

If you keep track of how long it takes for your pulse rate during exercise to return to its normal resting rate, within four weeks of starting regular exercise your efforts should be rewarded with a noticeable reduction in recovery time.

However, the target rates given are only guidelines, as your pulse rate may be affected by other factors such as medication, pacemakers or certain forms of heart disease.

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Dr Mark Porter on pulse rate

Your pulse rate is a good marker of general health with anywhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute (at rest) being regarded as normal. However, many cardiologists use a lower range (50-75) as this is where people with the healthiest hearts seem to sit.

A resting pulse rate above 75 doesn’t mean you necessarily have a problem, but does suggest that you are perhaps not as fit as you could be. And faster rates (over 100) can be due to a number of things, ranging from a side effect of drinking alcohol or coffee, to more worrying things such as infection, anaemia, an overactive thyroid or heart trouble.

At the other end of the spectrum, generally the lower your pulse the better, as long as you are not getting symptoms suggesting it is so slow that its pumping capabilities are being restricted – such as light-headedness and/or shortness of breath on exertion (both of which should prompt a visit to your doctor).

Many of my healthiest patients have pulse rates in the mid-50s, some even lower. Imagine the heart is like the legs of a cyclist. The stronger and fitter the rider, the higher the gear they can use and the slower they pedal. Meanwhile, the weaker rider has to drop a few cogs and pedal faster just to keep up.

Your heart should be like the legs of the fit cyclist, delivering slow, powerful strokes rather than rapid, weaker ones.

Extract taken from Saga Magazine, April 2019. For more health tips, subscribe to the magazine today!

If you’re looking to reduce pulse rate, we recommend starting slow and steady. Why not try our top ten flexibility exercises or our nine easy chair exercises?


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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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