Resting heart rate 101

What it is and why it matters
Published October 1, 2021

Cast your mind back to middle school health class, you probably learned all about resting heart rate and how to calculate it, but how many of us remember how to do that?

Not to worry, here’s a refresher.

What is it?

Your resting heart rate is your heart rate at rest – when you’re not doing much of anything.

“A resting heart rate is how many beats per minute your heart uses,” explains NASM personal trainer John Gardner. “For adults, a normal resting heart rate would range between 60 [to] 100 beats [per] minute.”

An athlete, Gardner notes, would likely have a much lower resting heart rate, of between 30 and 60 beats a minute.

When a heart rate is on the low side, it indicates that the heart is functioning efficiently and suggests cardiovascular fitness,” he explains.

How do you calculate it?

“There are several ways to find your resting heart rate,” says exercise physiologist and personal trainer Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, CISSN.

“Ideally you test it first thing in the morning, right after waking. You can do it manually, by placing your fingers on your neck or wrist and counting the number of beats in 60 seconds (or for 30 seconds and multiplying by two). You can also use your smartwatch to find your resting heart rate as well, either through wrist-based measurement or by using a chest strap.”

Most fitness trackers these days measure heart rate, so you can check your tracker app for the data.

What does my RHR tell me?

“Generally speaking, resting heart rate is a metric that can provide valuable insight into your heart health and current cardiovascular fitness level, as well as potentially indicate negative health issues,” explains Holland.

“The average resting heart rate ranges from 60-100 beats per minute. The lower the RHR, the more efficient your heart is functioning, pumping more blood to your body with every beat. … Your heart is a muscle and thus the stronger it is, the less work it has to perform and the better its overall function.”

Does it matter?

In short, yes!

“Given that heart disease is the number one cause of death globally, heart health is extremely important,” Holland says. “Your resting heart rate is one simple yet effective way to measure how your heart is functioning. It is also a great way to measure the progress of your fitness program instead of merely relying on pure weight loss, as engaging in regular cardiovascular exercise is one of the most effective means of lowering your RHR.”

Gardner adds, “Lowering the heart rate improves cardiovascular health, fitness and endurance. It means that the heart will pump more oxygen with every beat, exerting less effort.”