Image source: Garmin

Unlocking the potential of recovery heart rate on Garmin watches

Understanding your recovery heart rate can offer valuable insights into your cardiovascular health. This article delves into what recovery heart rate is, how to measure it using Garmin watches, and what constitutes a healthy range based on scientific studies.

What is recovery heart rate?

Recovery heart rate is a metric that quantifies the rate at which your heart returns to its baseline or resting state after a bout of exercise. It is calculated by taking the difference between your heart rate at the end of a physical activity (ideally when your heart rate hits peak), and your heart rate a few minutes later.

For instance, if your heart rate is 140 beats per minute (bpm) after you’ve ended an exercise, and drops to 90 bpm two minutes after you’ve stopped, your recovery heart rate according to Garmin would be 50 bpm (140 – 90).

The significance of recovery heart rate lies in its ability to offer a window into your cardiovascular system’s efficiency. A faster return to the baseline heart rate is generally indicative of a more resilient and healthier heart. This is because a quicker recovery suggests that your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to revert to its normal state, signaling better cardiovascular fitness and lower risk of heart-related issues.

Moreover, recovery heart rate is often correlated with other important physiological metrics like VO2 Max, which measures the maximum amount of oxygen your body can utilize during exercise. So rather than using it on its own, the figure should be used in conjunction with other metrics and medical advice for a comprehensive understanding of your heart’s condition.

Measuring recovery heart rate on Garmin watches

Many Garmin watches, including the Forerunners, Venu and Fenix range offer a built-in feature to measure your recovery heart rate. After completing an activity like a run, don’t hit the ‘Save’ button immediately. Instead, wait for two minutes. During this time, the watch will calculate your recovery heart rate and display a recovery heart rate number.

This data is stored in the Garmin FIT file, although it’s not readily visible in Garmin Connect. So don’t look for it in the smartphone app, it is not there.

On some watches you can also manually trigger a reading by doing the following:

  1. Stop your activity.
  2. Scroll down and select Recovery Heart Rate.
  3. Wait for the device to finish examining your BPM’s.
  4. After your recovery heart rate is displayed, press the BACK (bottom right) button to view your stopped activity options.
Garmin Recovery Heart Rate

Tips for accurate measurement

  1. Stand still: Avoid any movement for two minutes to get an accurate reading.
  2. Deep breaths: Take deep breaths to help your body recover and to get a more accurate measurement.
  3. Manual confirmation: If you’re concerned about the accuracy, you can manually confirm the recovery heart rate value in the activity settings.

Healthy ranges for recovery heart rate

Garmin will just quantify your recovery heart rate without offering any insights. So you might be left wondering, what constitues a healthy reading.

Based on the study from the New England Journal of Medicine, recovery heart rate can serve as a reliable indicator of cardiac health. Therefore, tracking this metric over time can offer valuable insights into your heart’s condition. The study posited that a decline of 15-20 beats per minute in heart rate within a minute of ceasing exercise is generally deemed average for cardiovascular wellness. A more rapid decrease is interpreted as an indicator of superior heart health.

A comprehensive review by the Journal of the American Heart Association, which synthesized data from multiple studies, affirmed the strong correlation between heart rate recovery and cardiovascular health. This led to the recommendation that heart rate recovery should be considered when evaluating risks such as heart disease.

Moreover, heart rate recovery has been validated as a useful gauge for athletic prowess and general fitness levels. A recovery heart rate for athletes of 25 to 30 beats in one minute is considered to be a good score, and 50 to 60 beats in one minute is considered excellent. Of course, what constitues a good recovery heart rate will also be be age-dependent.

A separate study from the Cleveland Clinic, states that a heart rate recovery of 18 beats or more after a minute of rest is generally considered good for most adults. Older individuals typically have lower maximum heart rates during exercise, which in turn affects their heart rate recovery figures. Here’s how the heart rate recovery metrics break down by age group according to their research:

  • Ages 20-30: Peak heart rate is 195; ideal heart rate recovery is 22
  • Ages 30-39: Peak heart rate is 185; ideal heart rate recovery is 22
  • Ages 40-49: Peak heart rate is 175; ideal heart rate recovery is 22
  • Ages 50-59: Peak heart rate is 165; ideal heart rate recovery is 21
  • Ages 60-69: Peak heart rate is 155; ideal heart rate recovery is 18
  • Ages 70-79: Peak heart rate is 145; ideal heart rate recovery is 14

Interpretation challenges & final thoughts

Garmin’s recovery heart rate feature is a useful but often underutilized tool for monitoring cardiovascular health. Given its importance, you might be wondering why this metric cannot be found in Garmin Connect. After all, wouldn’t it be useful to follow trends and see how your recovery heart rate is changing over time.

Essential readingTop fitness trackers and health gadgets

The company has not disclosed why it does not do more with this metric. But we suspect it is to do with consistancy challenges. For example, many users don’t start resting immediately after stopping the activity on their Garmin watches. Activities like walking or climbing stairs right after the exercise can skew the recovery heart rate value.

So at the moment, the data is only stored in the Garmin FIT file and now fully integrated into the Garmin Connect ecosystem. Users who find this metric valuable should consider manually adding it to their activity notes until Garmin offers a more streamlined solution.

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Marko Maslakovic

Marko founded Gadgets & Wearables in 2014, having worked for more than 15 years in the City of London’s financial district. Since then, he has led the company’s charge to become a leading information source on health and fitness gadgets and wearables.

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