What does it mean to have a normal heart rate?

In years past, medical professionals believed that a normal resting heart rate was anywhere 60-100 beats per minute (BPM), beating at a consistent rate while at rest. This belief was then transferred to the general public, many of whom still may believe this to be truth. You may even remember sitting in your elementary school health class and counting your beats per minute.

If you are among the believers, hold tight and prepare to have your whole world shaken. You may even want to check your pulse right now in case the information that follows causes your heart to skip a beat.

The truth of the matter is, there is no such thing as normal.

Wait, what?

It’s true. We are not robots programmed to have every single internal working of our bodies perform exactly the same as everyone else’s, nor do our hearts tick like clockwork. Rather, we are unique individuals with our own mechanics that differ from person to person with heartbeats that when looked at closely, can seem irregular.

So, if there is no normal, how do I know what to look for?

Simply put, you need to find your normal. By taking your resting heart rate over an extended period of time — perhaps several times a day for a week, and not just in health class — you will begin to get a good indication of what your normal is. 

If you want to take it a step further, you could even begin tracking your heart rate variability (HRV), which is the measure of time between each beat. Research has found that measuring your HRV (that is again unique), will help you to better understand your body as it is linked to the all-important autonomic nervous system.

Can factors change my normal heart rate?

As you may have found in your elementary school heart rate experiment, running in place for a few minutes or even seconds caused your heart rate to go up in what was now an active heart rate. 

Along these same lines, there are things that can cause your resting heart rate to change, while still remaining at a resting state.

For example, if you have been exercising regularly at a higher intensity, you will likely see your RHR go down, even in the 40 BPM range because you have trained your heart to work less. Conversely, if you have decreased your physical fitness levels, and/or gained weight, you may see your RHR go up because now your heart needs to work harder to pump blood.

Other factors that weigh in are stress, sickness and even types of medication that can cause your RHR to either rise or decrease. This is again why it is so important to find your normal.

So, is there a normal/healthy range I should stay within?

OK, so it turns out that early research was not all wrong. A resting heart rate between 60-100 BPM is what is known as a healthy level. If your don’t exercise at a higher than average level, and you find that your normal heart rate is consistently in between these numbers, your heart would be considered in the healthy range.

Again, the key is knowing your normal so that you can better make adjustments when needed, whether it is in your physical, mental or emotional health to help normalize your normal … back to normal. 

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