Normal heart rate: What affects it and how to improve it

Normal heart rate is one of key values which is good indicator of your fitness level and heart muscle function.

Individuals that want to maximize their cardiovascular system function, preform high intensity cardio exercises which raises their heart rate to its max.

However, this type of training is not for everyone. You have to achieve at least average, healthy heart rate and work you way from there.

AVERAGE HEART RATE FOR YOUR AGE

Average, normal heart rate is the number of heartbeats per minute, measured at rest. However, age as well as level of fitness can increase or lower resting heart rate.

Average healthy heart rate for different age groups:

  • From 60 to 71 for men and women 18-25 years old
  • From 62 to 72 for men and women 26-35 years old
  • From 64 to 73 for men and women 36–45 years old
  • From 66 to 74 for men and women 46–55 years old
  • From 68 to 76 for men and women 56–65 years old
  • From 70 to 78 for men and women above 65 years of age

These numbers can be improved significantly with rest and exercise. For instance, some high levels athletes have resting heart rate of 30-40 beats per minute.

Note: Men are closer to the lower number of this chart since our heart muscle is bigger, due to higher amounts of anabolic and androgenic hormones.

HOW TO MEASURE HEART RATE

You can measure heart rate, even if you don't have heart rate monitor. The only thing you need is your index and middle finger, right measuring spot, sense of touch and a watch.

The measuring spots on the body are the ones where an artery is close to the surface, so that the pulse can be felt. This includes the arteries in your neck and on the inside of your wrist.

In order to measure normal heart rate:

  • Place index and middle finger on one of these points, with just enough force to fell the pulse.
  • Count the beats for 30 seconds, then double the result to get the number of beats per minute.

You can also count the number of beats in 10 and 20 second intervals but then you have to multiply the result by six or three, to get the number of beats per minute.

WHAT REGULATES HEART RATE

There are two main ways which regulate heart rate. One is always on, while the other one turns on and off, depending on the situation. 

Natural pacemaker of the heart muscle controls heart rate, most of the time. In case some of the heart's atrial nodes don't work properly anymore, then pacemaker device can be implanted to correct deviations in heart rate and rhythm, by correcting irregular electrical impulses of the natural cardiac pacemaker.

Autonomic nervous system regulates heart rate in certain situations, when the body requires more oxygen, energy and nutrient rich blood, for specific systems. Sympathetic nervous systems turns on in a case of fight or flight response, by increasing heart rate and stroke volume. When the threat is gone, parasympathetic nervous systems takes on, by slowing down the heart rate. Sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are controlled by medulla oblongata which is part of the brainstem.

Note: If you really want to know how does the heart work and see the big picture, check this link.

WHAT AFFECTS HEART RATE

While these two control normal heart rate, there are several factors which can indirectly increase or lower resting heart rate, throught related mechanisms.

Stress hormones are part of the autonomic nervous system reaction which tells the body to secrete adrenaline in stressful situations. Adrenaline attaches to Beta-1 adrenergic receptors in the heart muscle, resulting in higher heart rate.

Thyroid hormones affect all the processes in the body. Overactive thyroid speeds them up, while underactive thyroid slows them down. Same rule applies for the speed of heart rate.

Deep breathing triggers relaxation response in the body, by reducing the activity of sympathetic nervous systems, while stimulating parasympathetic nervous system.

Beta blockers and relaxing herbs are used to achieve normal heart rate. Beta blockers block beta adrenergic receptors, while relaxing herbs help relax central nervous system.

Stimulants work completely opposite, when compared to relaxing herbs. Stimulants such as caffeine stimulate central nervous system, resulting in higher adrenaline levels and heart rate.

Emotions affect nervous system in both ways. Anger, fear and anxiety raise heart rate, while feelings of love, sadness, happiness as well as depression lower heart rate.

Dehydration decreases the amount of fluids in the blood which causes constriction of coronary arteries. At the same time, the heart begins to beat faster, in order to push the thicker blood through the blood vessels.

Temperature affects several processes inside the body. When body temperature goes up, blood vessels dilate which increases heart rate, in order to compensate for drop in blood pressure. On the other hand, decrease in temperature can lower heart rate but only to some degree. If the temperature gets too low, the body will actually increase heart rate, while trying to warm up.

Altitude decreases available oxygen levels, the more you go up. Since there is less oxygen, the heart has to pump the blood faster to transport more oxygenated blood to the cells. However, with time, the body can adapt thereby resulting in more or less normal heart rate. This phenomenon is used by athletes to increase their performance at sea level.

EXERCISE AND HEART RATE

Although regular exercise increases heart rate in short term, over time, the body adapts which results in lower resting heart rate and higher stroke volume in the long term.

In some cases, even the heart muscle increases in size which is known as athletes heart.

It becomes stronger and more efficient, by pumping more blood with fewer heartbeats. Oxygen uptake (VO2 max) also increases which is another benefit of exercise that helps lower normal heart rate.

In order to pick the right type of cardio exercise for you, click on the navbar link on the left. If you want to get the most from exercise, you may want to pay more attention on recovery heart rate which is mostly used by athletes for maximizing their performance.





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