Your resting heart

Your resting heart rate is best taken in the morning, after you’ve had a good night’s sleep. Photo: AFP

How can you tell if you’re fit?

You may be a weekend exerciser, but when pushed past the comfort zone, you get easily winded.

Or you can comfortably walk on a flat surface daily, but when you have to climb a few flights of steps or cart those heavy grocery bags to the car, you get out of breath.

Having a normal body mass index (BMI) and a slim figure is not an indicator of your fitness. You can slather on multiple wonder creams and glow with beauty, but still be unfit.

There are a number of fitness tests out there, which roughly measure endurance, strength, flexibility and balance, but an easier method to gauge your basic fitness level is to check your resting heart rate (RHR).

Your heart rate, or pulse, is the number of times your heart beats in a minute.

Like its name suggests, RHR is the number of times your heart beats per minute when it’s at rest, i.e. when you’re not moving or exercising.

If you’re sitting or lying down, and you’re calm, relaxed and aren’t sick, the adult heart rate is normally between 60 and 100 beats per minute.

Basically, a lower RHR implies a more efficient heart function and better cardiovascular fitness.

A number of recent studies are now pointing to the fact that your RHR is also a strong predictor of current and future cardiovascular health.

How to measure your RHR

The RHR is best taken when you wake up in the morning, and before you get out of bed.

Assuming you’ve had a good night’s sleep, it’s also the point at which your heart rate will be at its lowest.

However, do not spring out of bed once the alarm clock rings; just switch it off, take a few breaths, and start taking your pulse.

There are two ways to measure your heart rate.

Place your index and third fingers on your neck to the side of your neck (carotid artery).

To check the pulse at your wrist, place two fingers between the bone and the tendon over your radial artery, located on the thumb side of your wrist.

When you feel your pulse, start counting the number of beats in 15 seconds, beginning with 0. Multiply this number by four to calculate your beats a minute.

Or you can count for 60 seconds, which will give you the most accurate reading.

Ideally, take it three mornings in a row, divide the number by three and get the average.

This should provide an idea of your baseline fitness.

The Mayo Clinic advises to keep in mind that many factors can influence one’s heart rate, including activity level, fitness level, air temperature, body position, emotions, stress, caffeine, alcohol and medications.

If your RHR falls out of the normal zone and is unusually high or low, it may indicate an underlying problem.

Seek medical opinion if your RHR is consistently above 100 beats a minute (tachycardia) or if you’re not an athlete, and your resting heart rate is below 60 beats a minute (bradycardia) – especially if you have other signs or symptoms, such as fainting, dizziness or shortness of breath.

Low RHR and fitness

The lowest RHR listed in the Guiness World Record is 27 beats per minute, belonging to 47-year-old Briton Martin Brad, who was tested at the Guernsey Chest and Heart Unit, Channel Islands on Aug 11, 2005.

However, fellow Briton and fitness-mad pensioner Daniel Green, 83, has an average RHR of 36 beats per minute, but it drops to as low as 26 beats per minute, according to the World Record Academy. The former physical training instructor keeps in top shape by running daily.

Elite athletes with a low RHR include runners Mo Farah and Usain Bolt (33 beats per minute), and cyclist Sir Bradley Wiggins (35 beats per minute).

British distance runner Mo Farah has an incredibly low resting heart rate of 33. — EPA
British distance runner Mo Farah has an incredibly low resting heart rate of 33. Photo: EPA

Compared to them, mine is a modest 52, but considering I don’t put in half the effort they do into their workouts and have a genetic predisposition to heart attacks, I’m happy.

I can’t seem to lower it down further.

Aerobic exercise increases the heart size, so it can push out a greater volume of blood to the body with each contraction. A lower RHR will deliver the same blood volume in a trained resting heart as the higher RHR in an untrained heart.

Detraining or stopping regular endurance exercise will reverse both effects. So, if you’re injured or have been out of action for a while, you will have to regain your fitness to lower the RHR.

Moderate physical activity doesn’t usually change the RHR much, but an increase in your RHR over time could signal that you’re overtraining or have an impending heart problem.

The speed at which your heart returns to normal (i.e. heart recovery rate) after you stop exercising also points to your cardiovascular fitness.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the most important factor in heart rate reduction is what happens during the first minute after you stop high intensity exercise.

Your heart rate should drop by about 20 beats during the first minute. People who have a reduction of 12 or less during that first minute are at a higher risk of suffering a heart attack later in life.

Everyone has a different recovery rate, but the faster your heart rate drops after stopping the said activity, the healthier your heart is, and the fitter you are.

The writer is a certified fitness trainer who tries to battle gravity and continues to dance, but longs for some bulk and flesh in the right places. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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Your resting heart


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