The Role of Heart Rate in a Healthy Life
Updated: May 6
When you visit your doctor, you usually get measured for two critical health readings. One is for your blood pressure and the other is for your heart rate or pulse. But do you know the difference between the two? Outside of seeing your doctor or getting a health check at home, how do you know what those healthy measurements are and how do you achieve them?
Differences between blood pressure and heart rate
While both of these heart health measurements can help you lead a healthier life, they measure two different functions. According to the Cleveland Clinic, blood pressure is the force of blood flowing against the walls of your arteries. Heart rate or heart pulse, on the other hand, measures the number of times your heart beats every minute.
Many wearable devices like smartwatches measure your heart rate. Alternatively, you can check your pulse. While it’s not as accurate as a doctor’s assessment or a biometric screening, you will have a pretty good idea of what your heart rate is.
While resting comfortably, use one of these three locations to find your pulse:
Feel the back side of your wrists
Check the inside of your elbow
Touch the side of your neck
Once you’ve found it, put your index and middle fingers over your pulse and count the number of beats in 60 seconds.
Factors that affect heart rate numbers
When you’re sitting, relaxed and not ill, your heart pumps the lowest amount of blood through your body. Your resting heart rate is normally between 60 (beats per minute) and 100 (beats per minute).
A heart rate lower than 60 is not always a sign of a medical problem or health challenge. Sometimes the lower rate can be the result of exercising regularly at a high level or taking a drug such as a beta blocker. Other factors that can affect your heart rate include:
Air temperature: When outside temperatures or humidity rises, your heart usually pumps more blood. Your pulse rate may increase but usually no more than 5 to 10 beats a minute.
Body position: When you’re resting, sitting or standing, your heart pulse remains pretty consistent. On occasion as you stand up for the first 15 to 20 seconds, your pulse may increase slightly but usually returns to normal after a couple of minutes.
Emotions: When stressed, anxious or exuberant, your emotions may contribute to a higher pulse rate.
Body size: Body size rarely changes your pulse rate. However, if you’re obese, you might see a higher resting pulse than normal but rarely exceeding 100.
5 simple steps to keep your heart healthy
You know that exercising regularly and eating healthy are critical to staying healthy. But according to the Cleveland Clinic, there are some other things you can do to help live a longer and more active life.
Of course, you should always speak with your health care professional first.
1. Eat healthy fats, not trans fats: Plain and simple, trans fats can clog your arteries by raising your bad cholesterol levels (LDL) and lowering your good cholesterol levels (HDL). Trans fats are often found in packaged baked goods, snack foods, margarines and fried fast foods. Stay away from them and add healthy fats to your diet such as avocados, fatty fish (salmon) and eggs instead.
2. Practice good dental hygiene, including daily flossing of your teeth: Dental health is a good indicator of your overall health including your heart. Research has shown that those with periodontal (gum) disease often have the same risk factors for heart disease.
3. Get Enough Sleep: This seems basic, yet many people are simply not getting enough sleep. The fact is that sleep is an essential part of maintaining a healthy heart. Not getting a proper amount of rest puts you at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease no matter your age or other health habits.
4. Limit Your Sitting Time: In recent years, research has suggested that staying seated for long periods of time can put your heart at risk. If you sit at a desk for your work, make sure you get up and take regular breaks to move around during your day.
5. Avoid Secondhand Smoke: According to research, developing heart disease is about 25 to 30 percent higher for people who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work. Stay away from smokers and limit the exposure of your children.
To learn more about testing your heart rate, getting a health check at home or receiving some advice about adopting a healthier lifestyle, talk to your health care provider.