What Your Heart Rate Number Really Means

Anne R. Crecelius

The rise of wearable fitness trackers has increased the number of people monitoring their heart rate, both throughout the day and during exercise.

Whether you’re an athlete trying to gain the competitive edge, a weekend warrior tracking progress or someone who is just trying to improve your health, consider heart rate a valuable tool in understanding the work of your amazing body as it achieves those first steps, that next 5K or even Olympic gold.

Heart rate is one of your body’s most basic vital signs, yet many people have questions about what heart rate really tells them. What should your target heart rate be during exercise? Does it even matter?

1. What is your heart rate?

First, the basics: Your heart rate, also sometimes called your pulse rate, is the number of times your heart contracts per minute.

Physiologists like me focus on the contractions of the left ventricle, the chamber of the heart that generates pressure to drive blood out through the aorta and on to the entire body. The heart’s pumping capacity directly relates to its ability to deliver oxygen to the body’s organs.

If you’re running up the stairs or hauling something heavy, your muscles and organs are going to need more oxygen to help power your actions. And so your heart beats faster.

2. How do you measure heart rate?

The easiest way to measure heart rate is to find your pulse and count the number of pulses felt over the course of one minute.

In adults, the best places to feel for a pulse are large arteries that are near the surface of the skin, such as the carotid at the side of your neck or the radial on the underside of your wrist. If feeling for the carotid pulse, don’t press hard enough to disrupt blood flow to and from the head.

Read the original article.