A report published last year in the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggests that resting heart rate (RHR) can be used as to predict your chance of keeling over in the next two decades.
The study of over 1.2 million people found that those who have a RHR of 80 bpm are 45% more likely to die of any cause in the next 20 years compared to those with the lowest measured heart rate of 45 bpm. Researchers found that the risk of dying from any illness or health condition raises by around 9% for every 10 beats per minute over. The chance of suffering a fatal heart attack or stroke rises 8%.
What is a resting heart rate and why is it so important?
The basal or RHR is defined as the heart rate when a person is awake, in a neutrally temperate environment, and has not undergone any recent exertion or stimulation. Measurements are typically taken in the morning, after a rest day because the sympathetic nervous system is no longer active following strenuous exercise. A normal RHR for a healthy adult is anywhere between 60 and 80 beats per minute.
As you can see from the chart relating RHR and fitness level, the fitter you are, generally the lower your RHR. This is due to the heart getting bigger and stronger with exercise, and getting more efficient at pumping blood around the body. This means, at rest more blood can be pumped around with each beat, therefore less beats per minute are required.
So, how do you rank?
What affects my resting heart rate?
The above table provides only a generalization of your fitness and health. There are many other factors which may account for variations in heart rate such as medications and illness. Even the air temperature and weather can effect your individual readings.
Other factors that can affect your RHR include:
- Age: As you age, due to the decline of physical fitness, your readings will typically go up.
- Dehydration: If you are feeling dehydrated your heart has to work harder to maintain an adequate body temperature and to provide enough oxygen and nutrients to muscles.
- Stress: If you are feeling stressed, the central nervous system orders the heart, brain and muscles, to prepare for a fight-or-flight situation. This leads to an increase in your RHR.
- Genome: Finally, your genome is another important factor that can influence your RHR.
Your individual readings can also be used to assess fatigue levels. If you find that your RHR is elevated from its normal average (by more than 7 bpm), that could be a sign that you’re not fully recovered from a hard workout. You should then consider taking a few days or a week to allow your body time to recover.
How to use wearables to lower your readings?
The good news is, whatever your RHR there are things you can do to improve it. Regular amounts of high intensity exercise are particularly important, as they strengthen the heart and improve its efficiency. When you exercise regularly, your heart pumps more blood before it contracts, which results in fewer beats per minute. When your RHR decreases as a result of training, it is a sign that your aerobic fitness has improved.
Essential reading: Best devices for heart zone training
It is advisable to monitor how your resting heart rate is changing over time in order to know whether you are making progress. Luckily, new advances in technology have made this easier than ever. A number of activity trackers will automatically figure out your RHR for you. They will also provide a historical record, which you can tap into to see how your readings are changing over time.
Best wearables to track your resting heart rate
The heart rate monitor inside your activity tracker may not be as precise as the equipment used in doctors offices and hospitals, but researchers say the smartwatches and wristbands are accurate enough for most consumers’ needs. Nevertheless, t is worth noting, these are not medical devices so should not be treated as such.
Fitbit Charge 2
Fitbit’s flagship activity tracker is a sleek looking device that delivers solid improvements on its predecessors in a few areas. The tracker carries over all of the features found on the Charge HR, and upgrades them with an OLED display that is four times as large and a few other features.
Like the original device, the Charge 2 has an embedded optical heart rate sensor. Its heart rate tracking is continuous and accurate. Pressing a button on the side will allow you to check your heart rate in real time. It will also keep track of your RHR throughout the day and display the result within the app, plotting its course over a period of the last 30 days.
Plus there are a few new features that tap into your hear-rate readings. The most useful one is called Cardio Fitness Level. It gives you a snapshot of your fitness level using a personalised Cardio Fitness Score, which is based on your VO2 Max and lets you know how you compare to people the same age and gender.
Fitbit likes to think of the Charge 2 as a device for everyday users who want to get fitter and see how they are doing in real time on the wristband and also via the excellent free app and graphics-heavy desktop dashboard. The wearable definitely serves this purpose.
Of course, this is not Fitbit’s only wearable which tracks your heart rate. In fact, there are quite a few including the Charge HR, Blaze, Surge, Alta HR and the new Ionic. The quality of data is not going to be any different so the choice really depends on how much you wish to spend and what other features you are looking for.
Garmin Vivosmart 3
The Garmin Vivosmart 3, ticks most the boxes for those looking for a 24/7 fitness buddy. The feature packed device builds on the company’s excellent Vivosmart HR by adding more sophisticated activity tracking tools such as VO2 max and fitness age, all day stress tracking, and the ability to count reps and sets in the gym.
Vivosmart 3 sports an ultra-slim design, along with a Chroma display hidden behind the band. This means that the material of the band extends over the screen, so when you’re not using it, it disappears into the device.
Thanks to Garmin Elevate wrist heart rate technology you still get 24/7 heart rate monitoring. While the information on your heartrate is not EKG quality, it is reasonably accurate for a wrist based monitor. As part of that 24/7 monitoring, when users are not on the move the device will now measure heart-rate variability which it uses to calculate and measure stress levels.
Most Garmin devices dish out RHR figures and they all use the same Garmin Connect app. If you are after a more fully featured device, check out our overview of the company’s fitness trackers. Or you could perhaps opt for one of Garmin’s dedicated sports watches.
Apple Watch Series 3
The Apple Watch Series 3 delivers solid improvements over its predecessor, including LTE compatibility, a faster processor/wireless chip and a barometric altimeter.
Built into the display, there is now cellular connectivity. The watch uses the same number as your smartphone. Although users still need a SIM, the Series 3 features a small electronic SIM card.
In terms of fitness, there is a new barometric altimeter sensor. This means the watch is finally able to count floors climbed and estimate your altitude. You, of course, get all the great features of the predecessor versions including GPS, all day heart rate and more
Other changes are to do with the heart rate sensor. You are now able to see your current heart rate just by raising your wrist due to a new complication on the watch face. There is the addition of a “recovering heart rate” which shows how fast your heart rate drops after a workout, the watch will alert you when it detects an abnormal spike in your readings and you’ll get your RHR in the morning.
Nokia Steel HR
Not everyone wants a sporty looking fitness tracker. Some people prefer a device that combines the look and feel of a traditional watch, with abilities that are evident in today’s smartwatches.
In addition to telling the time, the primary purpose of the Steel HR is to track activity. The watch keeps tabs on your steps, distance, running, workouts, heart rate, calories and sleep. A quick glance at the activity dial lets you know exactly how active your day has been.
The main novelty for an analogue type device is the addition of heart rate monitoring. In normal mode, the watch will take a reading every 10 minutes, but you can get an on-demand reading by skipping through the digital display. When it comes to exercise, the Steel HR will automatically switch over to continuous mode. The watch will also keep tabs on your RHR throughout the night.
Combining style and functionality in a way few other smartwatches manage, the Steel HR is a great all-round wearable that succeeds in keeping things simple. With slick looks, automatic tracking, a healthy selection of fitness features, and almost a month-long battery life, it is hard to find much not to like.
Despite not being a fitness tracker, we felt it was worth including Beddit 3 on this list. This is a device that turns your bed into a smart bed and gives you insight into your sleep.
The Finland-based outfit was founded in 2006 to offer sleep tracking solutions for both consumers and professionals. Beddit uses ballistocardiography, through an ultra-thin force-sensing strip, to measure nighttime activity without any wearable sensors.
You put the Beddit sensor under your bed sheet and sleep on it – and check your sleep data from your smart phone or from the accompanying smartphone app daily, weekly or what ever fits you best. Beddit tracks your sleep time, sleeping patterns, resting heart rate, breathing frequency and snoring time. The tracker also looks at all the important elements of your sleep and summarizes them into one simple number – the SleepScore. Reaching the green-zone means you’ve had a good night’s sleep.
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