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 Measurements are typically taken in the morning, after a rest day because the sympathetic nervous system is no longer active following strenuous exercise.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 below 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. So for a more accurate idea of where you average, its best to take into account readings over a longer period.
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.
To illustrate this, Garmin has dipped into its database of user activity. Its research clearly shows that activity level impacts RHR values.
Check out the chart below. It illustrates that up to 15 hours per week, the more time you spend doing runs, bikes and swims the lower the average resting heart rate was in Garmin’s sample.
An even simpler way to demonstrate this is through walking. Garmin data shows that the more you walk the lower your RHR.
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: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets
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. Most fitness trackers and smartwatches will automatically figure out your RHR for you. All you need to remember is to wear them. They also provide a historical record, which you can tap into to see how your readings are changing over time.
Best fitness trackers & smartwatches 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. Particularly when it comes to RHR. Nevertheless, its worth noting, these are not medical devices so should not be treated as such.
Most half-decent 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 some nice additions. This has been our favourite fitness band for a number of years now – a great choice for the average person who does the occasional run here and there.
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 features that tap into your hear-rate readings. One of these 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.
Generation 4 brought built-in GPS. Something that is useful for tracking your outdoor exercise without the need to carry a smartphone for a satellite signal. The 5th generation brings with it a beautiful colour display, the ability to take ECG measurements, stress tracking that comes via a EDA sensor and a Daily Readiness Score. The last on this list lets you know if you are ready to exercise that day or if you should take a rest.
Battery life is great – about a week. Plus you get 5 ATM water-resistance so can wear the device around the clock. Charge 5 ticks all the boxes if you are after a fitness tracker.
The Garmin Vivosmart 4 is another great option for those looking for a 24/7 fitness buddy. This is a particularly popular choice with women due to its sleek form factor. Its 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 around the clock 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, 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 7 delivers a few improvements over its predecessor such as a slightly larger display thanks to a narrower bezel area. Pretty much the entire front face is now the display. Apart from that you get a slight boost in durability and the addition of the S7 processor. In all honesty, the improvements that came with the latest generation were not that big, which makes Series 6 a viable option. The company also has a cheaper Watch Series SE iteration.
The Apple Watch has a bunch of sensors on-board including a ECG sensor, a next generation accelerometer and gyroscope, blood oxygen, GPS and more. For a long time sleep tracking was missing, but now that’s part of the package. And then there’s watchOS 8 which also some handy upgrades such as respiratory information and additional mindfullness tools.
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 health 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 and the first proper one. It 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 way much better. There is swim proofing, it can store on-board music, there’s Fitbit pay and Alexa built-in.
But 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. Plus you’ll be able to keep tabs on all this in real-time on the gorgeous hi-res AMOLED touchscreen.
Outside of fitness and health you get some smart functionality. This includes the ability to read smartphone notifications on your wrist, NFC for contactless payments, Alexa and a bunch of apps that you can install via the App Gallery.
If you want the most feature-packed Fitbit out there, you can opt for Sense. It looks exactly like Versa but has some additional fitness tracking smarts such as a ECG sensor and a EDA sensor.
Garmin is the king of sports watches. Its hugely popular Fenix and Forerunner ranges are for those into running and multi-sports. However, the company also has a couple of entries in the all-purpose smartwatch space. They come in the form of the Vivoactive and Venu.
Both of these come with some pretty impressive specs. They are waterproof, they comes with built-in GPS, numerous sports profiles, there is comprehensive fitness monitoring, SpO2, all day stress tracking and more. The biggest difference between them is in the display. Vivoactive 4 has an always-on transflective screen while the Venu 2 has a AMOLED display.
The most recent addition to the range is the Venu 2 Plus. Released at CES 2022 in Las Vegas, it augments its predecessor with the ability to make calls, texts and it allows you to interact with your voice assistant when connected to your smartphone.
Both the Vivoactive and Venu range are great. In addition to all of the above, they come with excellent water-proofing and battery life. Plus you have a choice of sizes to choose from.
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