What’s in a pulse? Your heart rate climbs and dips depending on what you’re doing, how you’re feeling and what’s happening around you.
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But your resting heart rate is your baseline. It’s a measure of how fast your heart beats when you’re completely at rest — sitting, sleeping, binge-watching your favorite sitcom.
Resting heart rate can vary from person to person and day-to-day. But a high resting heart rate can be a red flag, says cardiologist Tamanna Singh, MD. “It’s usually a sign that something else is going on in the body.”
Here’s what you should know about how to lower your resting heart rate.
Measure your resting heart rate
A normal resting heart rate is typically between 60 and 100 beats per minute.
The best time to measure it is right after you wake up when you’re still in bed. Place a finger on the side of your neck or against your wrist until you feel your pulse. Then count the number of beats in 60 seconds.
High resting heart rate: Should you worry?
In general, a slower resting heart rate is a sign of good health. Some athletes and people who are very active even have heart rates that dip below 60 when they’re at rest.
A high resting heart rate, on the other hand, can be an indicator of problems such as:
Often, a high resting heart rate is a sign that your heart is working harder than it needs to. Like any muscle, the heart doesn’t work as well when it’s out of shape. “In people who aren’t very active, the heart isn’t as efficient. It has to work harder to pump blood through your body,” Dr. Singh says.
How to lower your resting heart rate
How can you dial down a resting heart rate? Lifestyle changes can boost heart health and lower your pulse.
1. Get moving
“Exercise is the number one way to lower resting heart rate,” says Dr. Singh. The most common cause of a high resting heart rate is a sedentary lifestyle, one where you spend a lot of time not moving.
And being in poor shape can increase the risk of other problems, including obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. To give your heart a healthy workout, the American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity.
“The more you exercise, the stronger your heart becomes. Since it’s pumping more blood with each beat, it won’t need to pump as hard, which will lower your heart rate,” she says.
2. Manage stress
Anxiety and stress can elevate the heart rate, too. To help bring it down, try to bring calm to your day, Dr. Singh says. “Practice mindfulness, try to meditate or do breathing exercises.”
3. Avoid caffeine and nicotine
“Stimulants like caffeine and cigarettes can drive your heart rate up,” Dr. Singh says. Cutting back (or cutting them out entirely) may help lower your resting heart rate.
4. Maintain a healthy weight
“The more weight you carry, the harder your body has to work to move blood through the body — especially if you don’t have a lot of muscle mass,” Dr. Singh says. Losing weight can help bring down your heart rate.
Embracing good nutrition and regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight. And they’re good for overall heart health. Consider it a win-win.
5. Stay hydrated
Dehydration can cause the blood to thicken. That means your poor heart has to work even harder to push the blood around. To give your heart a break and lower resting heart rate, drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol (which can dehydrate you).
6. Sleep well
If you’re regularly short on shut-eye, it’s hard on the heart. Get plenty of sleep to help keep your heart (and the rest of you) healthy.
Healthy heart rates
Heart rate varies from person to person and day-to-day. But if you notice your heart rate is consistently over 100 — especially if you’ve tried making lifestyle changes — it’s worth mentioning it to your doctor, Dr. Singh says.
How long does it take to lower your heart rate? Plan to be patient. It can take a few months before a new exercise routine or other lifestyle changes affect heart rate. “Just like building your biceps and triceps, it takes time for your heart to become stronger,” she says.
And focus on heart rate patterns rather than getting hung up on a specific number, she adds. “Look for trends: How does your heart rate change after you eat certain foods or if you’re dehydrated? Is it going down after starting a new exercise program or working on reducing stress?”
Those trends will point you (and your heart) toward healthier choices. “Resting heart rate isn’t the end-all be-all,” Dr. Singh adds. “But it’s a marker you should pay attention to.”