Since thousands of years ago, humans have been aware of the importance of counting heartbeats. That is why digital watches with heart rate monitor became popular in the first place.
But, even without a fancy fitness watch, counting heart rate is simple. You just have to get a watch (with a second hand) and count your pulse rate by placing two of your fingers on the thumb side of your wrist. Then, you can count the number of beats in one whole minute or 15 seconds as long as you multiply the number by four.
If you have a stethoscope (the Y-shaped tube that is usually hanging on doctors’ necks), you can listen to your heart rate. All you need to do is put the earpiece on, place the stethoscope end on top of your chest, where you can hear your heart best; and count the heart rate in one full minute.
But knowing how to count your heart rate is not enough. Many factors affect our pulse or heart rate, including fitness level, activity, age, existing medical conditions, diet, medications, and lifestyle.
In this article, we will discuss important things you should know about your heart rate. These include the normal range of the heart rate, the factors that may affect heart rate, and some tips to have a healthy heart rate.
What is the normal heart rate?
The normal range for a resting heart rate of a healthy adult is between sixty to one hundred beats a minute (60 to 100bpm). This applies to men and women aged eighteen and above.
Children and infants have a faster heart rate because their body metabolism is faster. Another reason is that they have a smaller heart size and petite body frame. Then, it decreases as they grow, and by the time they become teenagers, the heart rate becomes in the same range as an adult’s.
What are the factors that affect our heart rate?
There are many factors that can control the heart rate or cause it to increase or decrease. First, let us discuss what makes the heart to speed up and increase in rate:
When we exercise, the heart needs to pump more blood to flow through the body. Because of this, the heart must beat faster and increase the heart rate. By doing this, the body is able to increase the blood flow (cardiac output) and deliver the necessary amount of blood to the muscles.
• Stress and Excitement
Stress, excitement, and heightened emotions can activate the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). This area of the nervous system is responsible for the response called fight or flight. Fight or flight helps us run when we are being chased by a dog or any perceived harmful attack, event, situations, or any threat to survival. When SNS is activated, one of the effects is an increased heart rate.
• Caffeinated Beverages
Energy drinks and coffee contains high doses of caffeine that can raise epinephrine levels in the blood. Epinephrine is another term for adrenaline, which increases heart rate, blood pressure, and the force of the heart (contractility). Aside from that, caffeine blocks adenosine, a chemical that slows the heart rate and causes drowsiness.
• Serious Infections
Serious infections, particularly those involving the bloodstream (called sepsis), adds strain on the heart. When the heart struggles, it can result in a faster heart rate.
• Problems with the Heart ‘s Electrical Activity
If the normal conduction or the electrical activity of the heart is disrupted, it can lead to increased heart rate where the heart can beat fast and abnormally.
• Thyroid Disease
The thyroid is a gland located in the neck. It works to maintain the process of metabolism. If the thyroid gets overactive, it can increase the heart rate. Along with it can be manifestations of irritability, heat intolerance, weight loss, and diarrhea.
So, what about the factors that decrease the heart rate? Here are some reasons.
• Physical Fitness
Physical training, cardiovascular fitness, or exercise can result in a lower resting heart rate. That is why it can be quite normal for active individuals such as athletes to have a resting heart rate of around forty beats per minute.
Our heart rate slows as we relax. How? The counterpart of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) — the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), gets activated. And as opposed to the SNS fight or flight response, PNS helps us to “rest and digest.” And one of the effects of this PNS response is that our heart rate decreases.
• Problems with the Heart ‘s Electrical Activity
Just like how an abnormal electrical activity can increase the heart rate, it can also slow it down. This can usually happen in cases such as heart arrhythmia, where a heart block stops the heart from beating properly.
Tips to have a healthy heart rate
So whether you have a rapid heart rate or a slower one, you should know how to keep it within the normal range. Here are simple and easy ways to have a healthy heart rate.
• Avoid a sedentary lifestyle
• Stretch out and try aerobic exercise or yoga
• Maintain an average weight
• Listen to music
• Avoid salty and fatty foods
• Drink alcohol in moderation
• Stop smoking
• Keep your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol in check
• Avoid drinking too much coffee or energy drinks in moderation
• Eat a well-balanced diet
About the Authors:
Mike Zhang is the founder of the MZF Group. He graduated from the University of Toronto on the dean's list with a Masters Degree in science. Mike was a two time National Muay Thai Champion, and a strength and conditioning coach to several learned athletes. He has over 14 years of experience as a Muay Thai Coach.
Marijune Tiamzon, RN, MHPNP
With nearly 5 years of experience in the medical field, Marijune holds a registered nurse license and a certificate as a mental health nurse practitioner. She is an adventurous young professional, and her hobbies include diving, windsurfing, and saber fencing.
As an avid writer, she is most passionate about sharing acquired knowledge in the medical field and how to apply it to improve the quality of life of our readers.