What your heart rate says about health – and how you measure it

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What your heart rate says about health – and how you measure it

The pulse is racing or the heart beats up to the neck: Our physical or psychological condition can be read from the pulse not only when we are excited. The resting heart rate is an important indicator for doctors. Read here how you can determine the pulse rate yourself.

Pulse measurement means that one feels the pressure wave of the blood passing through the arteries and describes its frequency. The resting pulse (the heart rate at rest), also called the normal pulse, is the pulse that can be measured in a state without physical exertion.

Measurement technology: How to measure your resting heart rate

First of all, you should sit quietly at least five minutes before the pulse measurement, because the pulse increases when moving. The measurement becomes even more precise if it is carried out in bed in the morning.

The easiest way to feel the pulse is on the inside of the wrist, below the thumb. This is how your pulse is measured: Place your index and middle fingers firmly on the veins on your wrist and you can feel the pulse well.

The heartbeats per minute are now counted. You can also count the strokes for 15 seconds and then calculate four times or for 30 seconds and double the value. However, it is more precise to measure a whole minute. Especially if you measure the pulse of someone else, you should also use your fingers, but not the thumb, because it has a strong pulse. Because the pulse rate in the thumb is very intense, you could be confused as to whether it is the pulse of your counterpart or your own

Good to know: The resting heart rate can also be determined on other arteries in the body. The arteries on the neck (carotid artery), under the armpit, in the groin, on the inner ankle or in the squat are suitable. In addition, the pulse frequency can also be determined using a blood pressure monitor.

Important: The same artery should always be used for pulse measurement so that the measurement results are comparable.

Table: Which pulse is normal at what age?

Healthy adults have an average resting heart rate of 60 to 80 beats per minute. Most are 72 to 73 beats with their resting heart rate.

  • If the heart beats faster, it is called tachycardia
  • If the heart beats slower, it is called bradycardia

Important: These values do not apply to children! The younger the heart, the faster the heartbeat is at rest.

In addition, the resting heart rate depends on age, gender, height, weight and level of training of the body. Athletes have a lower resting heart rate.

The following average values can therefore vary from person to person:

Group of peoplePulse rate (beats per minute)
Babies up to 1 year129
1 – 3 years118 – 107
4 – 5 years96
6 – 11 years85
12 – 18 years77
Adults72 – 73

Questionable values: at which resting heart rate should you go to the doctor?

In the short term, the pressure of the pulse waves (pulse frequency) can increase due to fever, stress or lack of fluids. If the heart muscle pumps the blood permanently through the vessels at more than 90 beats per minute, a medical examination should be carried out to determine whether there is a serious illness behind it. A permanently increased resting heart rate (tachycardia) also stresses the heart.

Recent studies show that people with a resting heart rate from 77 beats per minute already have an increased risk of heart attack. The risk of having a stroke also increases. Healthy adults can lower their resting heart rate through regular endurance training. For untrained people, on the other hand, a resting heart rate of less than 60 beats per minute is a warning signal, for example for a weak heart.

Irregularities: What a restless pulse means

Irregular pulse waves should also be observed. Because an irregularly beating heart can be an indication of a disease such as atrial fibrillation. If the heart only stumbles now and then, for example during stress, this is normal. Frequent extra blows or dropouts should always be clarified with a doctor to rule out cardiac arrhythmias.

Optimal training pulse: this is how you can determine it

Athletes like to check their pulse during training using a heart rate monitor with wrist sensors. But the pulse measurement can be done not only with the help of a watch, but also with a chest strap. The result is usually more accurate.

According to sports scientists, there is an optimal heart rate for everyone during exercise, also called exercise pulse. It describes a pulse range in which oxygen transport and fat burning work particularly well.

The training pulse is calculated from the so-called maximum heart rate. It describes the fastest pulse that can be achieved under stress – that’s 220 beats. As a rule of thumb, the maximum heart rate is 220 minus age. The optimal training range is then 50 to 75 percent of this maximum value.

Example of optimal training pulse:

  • Maximum achievable exercise pulse = 220 pulse waves per minute
  • Age: 45 years
  • 220-45 = 175
  • 175 beats correspond to the maximum heart rate of a 45-year-old person
  • 50 to 75 percent of these are 88 to 132 beats per minute

88 to 132 beats per minute result in the optimal training pulse of a 45-year-old person.

You should see a doctor about these abnormalities:

  • with a permanent pulse over 90 beats per minute (in adults)
  • with an irregular high pulse
  • with an increased pulse with accompanying symptoms such as feeling unwell, shortness of breath, chest pain or dizziness