Your resting heart rate is important. This is evidenced by a report published recently in the Canadian Medical Association Journal which suggests it can even be used as to predict your chance of keeling over!
The study of over 1.2 million people found that those who have a resting heart rate (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 Measurements are typically taken in the morning, after a rest day because the sympathetic nervous system is no longer active following strenuous exercise.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 comparing RHR to 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 factors influence 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 day to day 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 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. When you exercise regularly, your heart pumps more blood before it contracts, which results in fewer beats per minute. Regular amounts of high intensity exercise are particularly important, as they strengthen the heart and improve its efficiency. 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 that smartwatches and wristbands are accurate enough for most consumers’ needs. Nevertheless, its worth noting, these are not medical devices so should not be treated as such.
Most fitness trackers and smartwatches will keep tabs on your RHR. That is, if they have a built-in heart rate sensor. What follows are a few of our favourites.
Fitbit’s flagship activity tracker is a sleek looking device that delivers solid improvements on its predecessor in a few areas. The tracker carries over all of its features and upgrades them with an OLED display that is four times as large.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fitbit’s first smartwatch packs some pretty impressive specs under the hood. You’ll find 8 different sensors inside including an altimeter, 3-axis accelerometer, digital compass, GPS, optical heart rate monitor, ambient light sensor, vibration motor and a new relative SpO2 sensor for measuring blood oxygen levels.
When it comes to features, Ionic will provide you with your RHR along with everything else you would expect from a Fitbit device. This includes real-time stats on 20 different types of activities including swimming. You get VO2Max too, along with on-board storage for music, smartphone notifications and Fitbit pay.
Ionic and Charge 2 are not Fitbit’s only wearable which tracks your RHR. In fact, there are quite a few including the Charge HR, Blaze, Surge and Alta HR. 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.
Versa is Fitbit’s second smartwatch. The device comes with most of the sensors you’ll find on Ionic, but with its rounded edges, polished look and more compact form factor, it looks much better. There is swim proofing, it can store on-board music, it has an all new female health tracking function, but no built-in GPS.
When it comes to features, this is a timepiece that puts fitness first. It comes with everything you would expect from a Fitbit device and this includes your RHR in the morning, Cardio Fitness level, Heart Rate Zone information and much much more.
Vivosport is an ultra-slim fitness band that comes with some pretty impressive specs. Its waterproof, it comes with built-in GPS, there is comprehensive fitness monitoring, all day stress tracking and it counts reps and sets in the gym.
Measuring 21mm in width, 10.9mm in thickness and weighing only 27 grams, you’ll hardly notice you are wearing it. It feels great on your wrist, fitting very snuggly.
Along with your RHR, you’ll get everything you could possibly hope for 24/7 activity tracking. The GPS makes for more precise distance, time and pace tracking, along with route mapping for your runs. Vivosport will track your swims in the pool too.
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