The beat goes on

Soon after you wake up tomorrow morning, before you even sit up in bed, take your pulse. It’s fairly easy if you have a clock or timer nearby (see “Measuring your heart rate”). Known as your resting heart rate, this value ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute in most adults.

“To get a good sense of your resting heart rate, check it every few mornings over the course of several weeks,” advises cardiologist Dr. Aaron Baggish, director of the Cardiovascular Performance Program at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. It’s best to measure your resting heart rate when you’ve been getting your typical amount of sleep and exercise and aren’t feeling ill or dehydrated.

Many factors can affect your heart rate, including age, fitness and activity levels, emotions, body size, and medications. In general, a lower resting heart rate translates to better fitness and cardiovascular health. A resting heart rate that is that is too low (less than 50 beats per minute) or also one that is 100 or higher could be a sign of trouble and should prompt a call to your doctor.

Measuring your heart rateYou can check your heart rate or pulse using just your fingers. With your index and middle fingers, press lightly on the opposite wrist, just below the fat pad of your thumb. Or press gently on the side of your neck, just below your jawbone.Count the number of beats over a period of 30 seconds. Double that number to get your heart rate in beats per minute. Measuring for just 15 seconds and multiplying by four is also pretty accurate.Most if not all smart watches and wrist-worn fitness trackers display your heart rate, thanks to optical sensors that detect light bouncing back from the blood flowing beneath the skin. If you have one of these devices, you can check its accuracy by comparing it to a self-administered pulse check, ideally at rest and during activities of different levels of intensity.

Exercise to lower your heart rate

However, among elite endurance athletes such as marathon runners and professional cyclists, a resting heart rate around 40 or even lower is normal. That’s because exercise strengthens the heart, enabling it to pump a greater amount of blood with each beat. But even regular people who aren’t hard-core athletes can lower their resting heart rates with exercise.

“If you go from sitting most of the day to exercising at least 30 minutes every day, your resting heart rate might eventually drop from 80 down to 65. That’s a measurable response that shows you’ve gotten more fit,” says Dr. Baggish.

Are target heart rates misleading?

Some people like using smartwatches and fitness trackers to track their heart rate during exercise. These devices automatically calculate your “target” heart rate, or the heart rate you’re supposed to reach during exercise. But target heart rate zones aren’t necessarily accurate for many people, says Dr. Baggish. Here’s why: These devices calculate your target heart rate as a percentage of your maximum heart rate, which in turn is an estimate based solely on your age. (One standard formula is 220 minus your age; another is 200 minus half your age.)

These formulas were created based on measurements of people doing exercise stress tests. During these tests, people jog on a treadmill, while both the speed and incline of the treadmill gradually increases, until they’re too tired or out of breath. “But there’s a lot of intrinsic variability in how high a person’s heart rate can go,” says Dr. Baggish.

The estimated maximum heart rate of a 70-year-old is 150. But that figure might be too low for a 70-year-old who is lean and runs five miles several times a week — and too high for a 70-year-old who is overweight and whose only exercise is a daily walk around the block.

For this reason, most cardiologists recommended listening to your body and exercising based on your perceived effort instead of trying to reach an arbitrary number. During moderate-intensity exercise, you should be breathing harder than usual but still able to speak normally. During vigorous exercise, you should feel slightly breathless and able to utter only short phrases. Fancy gadgets may be inspiring for some people, but they can be misleading — and they’re certainly not necessary, says Dr. Baggish.

Heart rate recovery

If you’re working on improving your cardiovascular fitness, one metric you might want to measure is your heart rate recovery. It’s a gauge of how quickly your heart rate drops or recovers after intense exercise. To check it, simply measure your heart rate immediately after exercising, then again two minutes later. The difference between those two values is your heart rate recovery. A value of 20 is considered good, and higher is even better. A lower number suggests poor fitness. As with your resting heart rate, multiple measurements over time provide the most reliable information. If you’re starting or ramping up an exercise routine, your resting heart rate may gradually drop and your heart rate recovery value may slowly rise — two trends that bode well for your heart and overall health.

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

Acts 4:18-31 And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”     

2 Chronicles 25:19 “You said, ‘Behold, you have defeated Edom.’ And your heart has become proud in boasting. Now stay at home; for why should you provoke trouble so that you, even you, would fall and Judah with you?”

1 Samuel 2:3 “Boast no more so very proudly, Do not let arrogance come out of your mouth; For the LORD is a God of knowledge, And with Him actions are weighed.

Proverbs 11:2 When pride comes, then comes dishonor, But with the humble is wisdom.

Proverbs 16:5 Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; Assuredly, he will not be unpunished.

Micah 2:3 Therefore thus says the LORD, “Behold, I am planning against this family a calamity From which you cannot remove your necks; And you will not walk haughtily, For it will be an evil time.

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