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What's your resting heart rate?

Carotid Artery Pulse
Radial Artery Pulse

There's a health-related number every person over the age of 21 should learn about themselves. It's a number that you can find out yourself, without any special equipment or training. You can get it while lying in bed and it can be used as a predictor of your longevity.

The number is your resting heart rate. That is how many times your heart beats in one minute while you're completely at rest. It's simple to figure out.

Before you go to bed, put a stopwatch or watch with a second hand beside the bed. If you don't have either of those, make sure you can see a clock with a second hand.

First thing in the morning, right after you wake up and before you get out of bed, take your pulse for 15 seconds. Once you have that number, multiply it by 4 and you've got your resting heart rate. Keep in mind if you're feeling stressed, when you breathe deeply, if you didn't sleep well, or your bladder is full, all those things can elevate your heart rate.

There are two common ways to take your pulse.

Put your index and middle fingers together, place the fingertips directly under your ear and then slide them down until they're right under your jawbone. If you press lightly, you'll feel the pulse. This is the carotid artery. (Be careful not to put too much pressure on the carotid arteries because they contain baroreceptors, that sense increases in pressure and react by slowing heart rate.)

Put your index and middle fingers together, place the fingertips on the outside of your opposite wrist, just below the base of your thumb. Pressing lightly, you should feel your pulse. This is your radial artery.

You can measure your pulse anywhere on the body where an artery is close to the surface. Your elbow has the brachial artery, the femoral artery is in the groin area and you can even feel a pulse by placing your hand directly over the heart.

Avoid using your thumb, because it has a light pulse and it's easy to get confused counting beats.

Measure your resting heart rate for five days in a row. Add them all together and divide by 5. The average you come up with is your actual resting heart rate.

When you're counting beats, make sure it's regular and you're not missing a beat. If it seems unusual, take your pulse for a full minute. Call your physician if you consistently detect irregularities in your pulse because that can indicate something more serious going wrong.

SPECIAL NOTE: Taking your pulse is the most common and easy way of measuring heart rate. Unfortunately, in some arrhythmias, the heartbeats don't have much cardiac output. If you have a condition like that, the heart rate may be much higher than the pulse rate. If you suspect that may be a problem, use a heart rate monitor to get a more accurate measure of your resting heart rate and schedule a visit with your health care provider.

So what's a healthy number?

The average resting heart rate for adults is between 60 and 100 beats per minute, but generally, the better physical condition you're in, the lower the number.


Beats Per Minute (bpm)

Newborns to Age 1 100-160
Children Ages 1 to 10 60-140 (Average 85 to 90)
Children Ages 11 to 17 60-100
Adults (Male) 18 to 54 60-100 (Average 72)
Adults (Female) 18 to 54 60-100 (Average 76 to 80)
Adults 55 and Over 50-60
Well Conditioned Athletes 40-60

The number you should compare against is 75.

In a 20-year study on more than 4,000 Frenchmen, researchers learned that if you have a resting heart rate LESS than 75, you reduce the risk of an early death by 20 percent. However, if your heart rate is OVER 75, it increases the risk of premature death by an astonishing 50 percent.

The study showed that the higher resting heart rate was usually an indicator of other problems, such as atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and restrictions in blood vessel diameter. When your heart is continually being forced to work harder (the higher rate), just like a machine, it will wear out quicker.

If your heart rate is below 75, or even better below 60, congratulations. It doesn't mean you won't die of a heart-related problem, just that the odds are much lower. But if you're at 75 or higher, it's time to look into some kind of cardio or aerobic exercise program.

A word of warning. If your number is consistently over 90, it's a condition referred to as tachycardia (increased heart rate). If you have it, call your doctor or health care provider and get checked out to make sure there isn't some serious underlying complication causing such an elevated number.

Don't expect to see changes right away. Your resting heart rate shouldn't change by more than 10% in two weeks time. If your rate increases, it typically means you're body is fighting off a cold or illness. Whatever you do, remember that maintaining a consistent exercise program is the key to improving your number.

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