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What’s a normal heart rate?

Most people don’t think twice about what their heart rate is unless they’re experiencing distress or symptoms of a heart problem. However, it’s important to know what a normal heart rate should be, even if you don’t have heart problems. For adults older than 18, a normal resting heart rate should be between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Children ages 6 through 15 should have a heart rate between 70 and 100 beats per minute. Let’s take a look at what these numbers mean, how to measure your heart rate, and what factors might cause your heart rate to go up or down.

What’s a normal heart rate?

A heart rate is a measurement of the number of times the heart muscle beats per minute. Healthy kids and adults will have hearts that beat at different speeds because of their age and body size. If the heart is beating too fast or too slow, this could mean you have an underlying health problem. Your resting heart rate will also allow you to gauge your current heart health.      

In general, a lower resting heart rate means the heart is beating less per minute, which likely means it’s more efficient. Your resting heart rate tells you how fast your heart is beating when you’re in a relaxed state, like sitting or laying down. If your resting heart rate is too high, this might mean you have lower physical fitness, or that you’re at risk of developing a heart condition.

Knowing what your target heart rate should be for your age can help you recognize if and when your heart rate is abnormal, which may be an indication that it’s time to go to the doctor. 

Normal heart rate by age
Age Heart rate
1-5 years old  80-130 bpm
6-15 years old 70-100 bpm
18 and older 60-100 bpm

As we get older, the range of what’s considered to be a healthy normal resting heart rate will change.  

The average healthy adult will have a resting heart rate of 60 bpm or higher. Although in clinical practice, the resting heart rate between 60 and 100 bpm is considered to be normal, people with a resting heart rate higher than 80 bpm could have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

While it’s possible to push the heart rate to 130 or even 200 bpm by exercising, a heart that’s beating this high on a regular basis will need medical attention. The same is true for a heart that’s beating consistently below 60 bpm. Athletes are an exception. Their high fitness levels naturally lower their resting heart rate.

RELATED: Heart disease statistics

How to measure heart rate

Measuring your heart rate is easy to do if you follow some simple steps. The easiest place to measure your heart rate is on your wrist, just below the base of the thumb. Place your index and middle fingers between the bone and tendon at the base of your thumb. Once you feel your pulse, count the number of beats you feel in 15 seconds. Once you’ve counted how many pulses, you’ll multiply that number by four. This gives you the total amount of times your heart beats in one minute. For example, if your heart beats 18 times in 15 seconds, your heart rate is 72 beats per minute.

It’s important to measure your heart rate when you’re in a relaxed state. If you take your pulse after any strenuous activity, you won’t get an accurate reading. You should wait for one to two hours after exercising to take your resting heart rate, and an hour after consuming caffeine, according to Harvard Health.

What factors affect heart rate?

A person’s heart rate will vary throughout the day based on external and personal factors, such as the following:

  • High air temperatures and humidity: When temperatures and humidity go up, this causes the heart to pump more blood, so the heart rate will go up.
  • Obesity: Studies show that obesity causes the heart to beat faster because of high levels of fat in the body lead to a higher amount of blood. This means the heart has to work harder to pump blood.
  • Medications: Some medications can affect how fast the heartbeats. High blood pressure medications like beta blockers, for example, can slow the pulse down. On the other hand, taking too much thyroid medication could cause the heart rate to go up.
  • Body position: If you’re resting, sitting, or standing, your heart rate will likely remain the same. If you go from lying or sitting to standing, this could cause your heart rate to go up for about 15 to 20 seconds because your heart had to increase its pulse rate to move more blood to your muscles.
  • Age: Aging changes the heart and blood vessels, according to the National Institute on Aging. As people get older, their hearts can’t beat as fast during physical activity or times of stress. However, resting heart rates don’t change significantly with age.
  • Gender: When it comes to differences in gender, women have average resting heart rates that are higher than men’s, but studies have shown that women typically have a better cardiac function in the face of cardiac disease than men do.
  • Emotions: If you’re feeling stressed, anxious, depressed, frustrated, or fearful, your heart rate will go up. This is because these types of emotions release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which tell the heart to beat faster. If you’re feeling relaxed, calm, and safe, your heart rate will drop to a lower level.
  • Eating habits: Consuming large amounts of sodium can cause the heart to beat faster. When the body has too much sodium, it tries to dilute it by increasing fluid reabsorption in the kidneys. This results in increased blood volume levels, which makes the heart pump faster. A diet high in saturated fat can indirectly increase heart rates because bad fats result in high cholesterol levels and contribute to changes in cardiac activity.
  • Exercise: Evidence shows that exercising regularly decreases the resting heart rate over time and the risk of mortality from having a high resting heart rate.
  • Medical conditions: Heart diseases and lung diseases can increase resting heart rate. Overactive thyroid disorders such as Graves’ disease and toxic goiter, are a common cause of elevated heart rate.
  • Family history of certain medical conditions: Some heart conditions are hereditary. If you have a family history of heart or blood pressure problems, you might be predisposed to having a higher resting heart rate and an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Maximum and target heart rate

It’s important to know what your maximum heart rate should be to avoid causing harm to your heart or body. To calculate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), your target heart rate while doing moderately intense activities should be about 50% to 70% of your maximum heart rate. During vigorous exercise, it should be about 70% to 85% of your maximum heart rate.

If you exceed your maximum heart rate, you may experience sore joints, sore muscles, or musculoskeletal injuries. Heart rate monitors are great to wear while exercising because they tell you your heart rate in real-time.

How to lower heart rate (short- and long-term approaches)

If your heart rate is too high there are ways to lower it safely. Your heart rate could be high after exercising or because you’re feeling stressed or anxious. 

Here are some fast-acting methods that can help lower a fast heart rate:

  • Breathing exercises: You can use your breathing to raise the aortic pressure in your heart, which will lower your heart rate. To do this, close your mouth and nose and raise the pressure in your chest. Breathe in for five to eight seconds, hold it for three to five seconds, and then exhale slowly. This can be repeated several times. 
  • Taking a bath: This can help relax you and bring your heart rate down. 
  • Light yoga: Calming yoga or meditation can help relax you and bring a high heart rate down.
  • Moving to a cooler location: If your heart rate is raised because you’re too hot, moving to a cooler location will help bring it down. 

Here are some long-term solutions that can help you achieve a healthy heart rate: 

  • Exercising regularly: Starting and keeping an exercise program will help decrease resting heart rates over time.
  • Eating healthy: Healthy diets that contain whole grains, leafy greens, fruits, and omega-3 fatty acids are great for supporting long term heart health and will help keep heart disease at bay.
  • Quitting smoking: Non-smokers have a lowered risk of recurrent heart attacks and cardiovascular disease.
  • Staying hydrated: Drinking enough water allows the heart to pump blood more easily throughout the body.  

RELATED: How to take care of your heart during pregnancy

When to call your doctor

The heart is arguably the most important organ in the body. If something goes wrong, the consequences are sometimes fatal. Some heart problems may not be as detrimental as a heart attack, but this doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be taken seriously. 

You should go to the doctor if your heart rate has been within a normal range and suddenly is not. This might indicate you have a heart problem like arrhythmia which is an abnormal heart rhythm, tachycardia which is when the heart beats consistently at over 100 bpm, or bradycardia which is a low heart rate that’s less than 60 bpm.    

“You should seek emergency care if your rapid heart rate is resulting in symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, palpitations, or dizziness,”  says Evan Jacobs, MD, the Regional Medical Director in Cardiovascular Services at Conviva Care Centers. “In general, a sustained heart rate above 130 beats per minute, regardless of symptoms, should prompt urgent evaluation. Your primary care doctor or cardiologist should be alerted to rates between 100 and 130 beats per minute and can decide on the need for emergency care on a case-by-case basis.”