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 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 Measurements are typically taken in the morning, after a rest day because the sympathetic nervous system is no longer active following strenuous exercise.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. It’s not rocket science – exercise is the best way to lower your values. When you workout 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.
Other ways to lower your RHR include staying hydrated, reducing stress, limiting the intake of stimulants such as caffeine and coffee, limiting alcohol intake and eating a healthy, balanced diet. Getting enough quality sleep is also important, as is maintaining a healthy body weight.
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. Many wearable devices 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 fitness tracker is a sleek looking device that carries over all of the features found on its predecessor, and upgrades it with a bigger OLED display. Waterproofing is another important upgrade. Charge 3 has a water-resistance rating of 5 ATM which means you can dunk it down to depths of 50 metres.
The device has an embedded optical heart rate sensor and its heart rate tracking is continuous and fairly accurate. It will also keep track of your resting heart rate 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 4 ticks most the boxes for those looking for a 24/7 fitness buddy. Its slim body houses sensors allowing it to track step, distance, calories, floors and sleep, along with some more advanced metrics such as VO2Max.
Thanks to Garmin Elevate wrist heart rate technology you still get 24/7 heart rate monitoring. As part of that 24/7 monitoring, when users are not on the move the device measures heart-rate variability which it uses to calculate and measure stress levels.
Garmin has also slapped on some new features in the fourth generation device. In additional to all the usual fitness tracking smarts, Vivosmart 4 comes with a blood oxygen sensor and it will keep tabs on your body’s energy reserves to let you know when its time to push hard when to rest.
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 fitness tracking information on the Apple Watch is comprehensive in that it wants you to exercise for 30 minutes per day, stand for at least a minute for 12 hours and burn enough calories every 24 hours. It’ll also tell you steps and distance travelled, which is a staple of the tracker.
The Series 4 delivers solid improvements over its predecessor, including a bigger display, ECG sensor, fall detection, performance upgrades and more. In terms of fitness, the device features a next generation accelerometer and gyroscope which can sample motion data 8 times faster. You, of course, get all the great features of the predecessor versions including GPS, all day heart rate and more.
Apple’s optical heart rate sensor is one of the best ones on the market. The watch will alert you when it detects an abnormal spike in your readings and you’ll get your RHR in the morning.
This is hands down the most advanced smartwatch you can buy today. But with each iteration, it’s getting closer to becoming a must have device as well.
Not everyone wants a sporty looking fitness tracker strapped to their wrist. Many people prefer a device that combines the look and feel of a traditional watch, with abilities that are evident in today’s smartwatches. This is where Steel HR Sport comes in.
The second generation comes with the addition of Connected GPS, a Fitness Level assessment via VO2 Max estimation and better watch straps. Of course, you still get basic fitness stats and heart rate monitoring.
In normal mode, the watch will take a heart rate 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.
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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