The average resting heart rate for a man or woman is between 60 to 80 beats per minute. However, this rate can be much lower for people who are physical fit. Another name for your heart rate is your pulse rate, or the number of times per minute that your heart beats. This rate will vary from person to person and will be lower when you are resting and higher when you are walking, running, exercising or have a sudden surge of adrenaline.
Your heart rate will increase in response to your body’s need for more oxygenated blood to the heart, brain and muscles for movement. Knowing how to take your pulse will help you to evaluate the effectiveness of your exercise program. This is because there are rates in which you will burn more fat or burn more calories.
First, let’s talk about how to take your pulse. Place the tips of your index and second finger on the palm side of your other wrist near the base of the thumb. Press only slightly until you feel the blood pulsing. You might have to move your fingers around slightly in order to find the right spot.
Use a digital stop watch or clock with a second hand to mark off 10 seconds while counting the number of beats you feel with your fingers. Don’t use your thumb, because your thumb also has a pulse in it and you can confuse the number of beats you feel between the thumb and the wrist.
Multiply the number you get by 6 to get your heart rate for 1 minute.
Another place to feel for your pulse is at your neck on the carotid artery. This might be more convenient and easier to find, but if you hold your fingers over the carotid to feel for your pulse when your heart is beating quickly to provide oxygen to your brain and muscles, you are reducing the amount of blood that gets to that side of your brain. It is safer, when exercising, to take your pulse at the wrist. Practice finding your pulse when you are not exercising so it is easier when you are out of breath.
The intensity of your exercise program is measured by the rate of your heart during the exercise. For a moderate intensity the rate should be 50-70% of your maximum heart rate. For a vigorous intensity program your rate should be 70-85% of your maximum heart rate.
In order to know what those numbers mean you first have to know what your maximum heart rate number is. There are two different methods of finding that maximum number. The first is a simple mathematical problem based on your age and gender; the second is a more complicated process done on a treadmill and measured by a professional.
The mathematical formulas are:
Men: 220 minus your age
Women: 226 minus your age
So a man age 35 has a maximum heart rate of 220 – 35 = 185. In a moderate intensity workout his maximum heart rate would not exceed 185 X .70 = 129. And in a vigorous intensity workout the maximum heart rate would not exceed 185 X .85 = 157.
Before beginning your workout it is easiest to determine the maximum heart rate – or target rate – that you want to achieve and divide it by 6. Then, as you are taking your pulse during your exercise there is no need to do multiplication or addition – just remember the number of heart beats you want to hit in 10 seconds!
American Heart Association: Target Heart Rates
Active: Target Heart Rate Calculator
Cleveland Clinic: Pulse and Target Heart Rate
The Walking Site: your Target Heart Rate
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Target Rate and Esitmated Maximum Heart Rate