A slow beat is the sign of a healthy ticker, here’s how to measure it
Heart rate tracking is becoming an ever-more crucial ingredient for fitness tech. It’s hardly surprising given that how fast your heart beats when you’re doing nothing at all reveals a lot about your overall health and fitness.
Unsurprisingly, a lower resting heart rate (RHR) is linked to some very big health benefits including a reduced risk of heart disease.
The good news is that, with the flood of heart rate monitoring wearables hitting the shops, it’s now easier than ever to monitor – and improve – your own resting bpm.
And while we can’t promise to give you the dicky ticker of an Olympic athlete, here are some tips on how you can use the latest tech to hit a better beat.
What is resting heart rate?
First up, let’s clear up what we mean by resting heart rate. Basically RHR refers to how fast your heart beats per minute (bpm) when you’re at complete rest, and by that we mean when you’ve been lying down and haven’t moved for ten minutes or so.
Generally speaking, the lower the number, the fitter you are. The average adult will have a resting heart rate between 60-100 beats per minute, while athletes are likely to have a much lower bpm, somewhere between 40-60. Spanish cyclist, and five times Tour de France winner, Miguel Indurain famously had a resting heart of just 28bpm.
As with anything relating to our bodies, there are lots of factors that influence your RHR. Genetics can play a part but lifestyle tends to have the biggest bearing, with the familiar friends and foes of stress, diet and exercise levels all impacting on how hard your heart works at rest.
It’s a story that we all know well. If you don’t smoke, don’t overdo the alcohol, eat a healthy diet and do regular exercise, the likelihood is you’ll have a more positive RHR.
People who are overweight tend to have higher heart rates too. When you’re carrying a bit more lumber, your heart has to work at a faster pace to supply blood and nutrients to your entire body. So staying lean is also important.
Why is resting heart rate important?
On top of being a simple barometer for heart health and general wellbeing, knowing your resting heart rate has other great advantages too. Most new fitness wearables and sports watches used RHR stats in tandem with your maximum heart rate, to dictate your heart rate based training zones. Some devices do this automatically but most require you to input your RHR and know this vital stat will add accuracy to other stats like your calorie burn.
Regularly checking your resting heart rate and comparing it to a benchmark bpm can also reveal stresses on the body, particularly in those training regularly.
Professional sport coaches monitor their athletes’ RHR stats daily and use this data to help them make judgement calls as to whether their stars should train that day. A significantly raised bpm (more than 7 above the normal average) can be a sign of overtraining or, even an incoming cold or illness.
How to measure your resting heart rate
You can get your RHR without any technology whatsoever. Some kind of clock, your fingers and an ability to count to 100 will suffice but if you own a heart rate monitoring wearable like the Apple Watch, the Garmin Forerunner 235 or the Polar M600, then it’s probably easier to let that do all that tricky number stuff. Not to mention many of the latest devices will also keep a record and adjust your heart rate training zones to be more accurate next time you workout.
You need to be fully relaxed to get a truly accurate resting heart rate. Just sitting down isn’t really enough. A good time to do it is when you first wake up, provided you exit the land of nod naturally and rather than being scared awake by a noisy alarm. Once you’re awake, continue lying down and rest peacefully for five minutes. Once five minutes have passed, check your heart rate.
Alternatively you can induce the same fully relaxed state at any time during the day by lying down completely still on your back for 10-15 minutes, without distraction. Once you’ve reached a state of complete and total inner peace and calm, then clock your heart rate and there you have it, your resting heart rate.
It’s worth pointing out that it’s perfectly normal to see fluctuations of 3-4bpm, and the more regularly you can test the more useful your average will be. Plus you’ll be able to chart your progress, and remember it’s important to measure yourself against yourself rather than other people.
Best devices for resting heart rate tracking
Apple Watch Series 3
The Apple Watch Series 3 has seriously upped its heart rate game with a gamut of new smarts, including resting heart rate. We’ve actually published a full guide to the Apple Watch heart rate smarts, but heading to the heart rate section on your app screen, and swiping up will show readings taken over the last 24 hours. If you want to see more detail, the Apple Health app on your iPhone will show resting data over months and years. Powerful stuff.
$329, apple.com | Amazon
Fitbit Charge 2
With heart rate tech built into Fitbit’s flagship activity tracker, you can get a live read out of your pulse. It will keep tabs on your pulse at rest and display the result within the app, plotting its course over a period of the last 30 days. It’s also included in the Fitbit Alta HR, offering the tech inside a slimmer more stylish body.
$149.95, fitbit.com | Amazon
Garmin Vivosmart 3
Successor to the Garmin Vivosmart HR+, the Vivosmart 3 uses the same optical heart rate monitor as Garmin’s high end GPS sports watches like the Forerunner 935 and the Fenix 5. It tracks resting heart rate continuously throughout the day and night and also uses that heart rate data to provide heart rate variability measurements to produce stress scores.
$140, garmin.com | Amazon
Nokia Steel HR
The Nokia Steel HR will keep tabs on your resting heart rate while you sleep. While your deep sleep heart rate isn’t a totally fair reflection, the points when you wake up are the best time to track RHR, making the Nokia Steel HR a decent bet.
Current price: $179.95, nokia.com
Fitbit Alta HR
Fitness tracker of the year 2017 at the Wareable Tech Awards, thanks in part to its resting heart rate skills. Like the Charge HR, your RHR is tracked within the Fitbit app, so you can neatly see small peaks when your body might be a little more stressed than usual. But the Alta HR’s diminutive size make it a much different proposition, and much more suited to those less serious about sport.
Current price: $149.95, fitbit.com
Something a little different, Beddit 3 is a sleep tracker that was snapped up by Apple last year. The sensor goes under your mattress and can incredibly track your heart rate in minute detail. It tracks RHR as part of its metrics during sleep, making it a powerful way to keep tabs on your ticker.
Use tech to lower your resting heart rate
Even if you’re hitting 100bpm there’s good news, the same tech you use to clock your RHR can help you lower it too. How? Let’s quickly go back to the simplified science.
When you exercise your heart has to work harder and during workouts you’re essentially strengthening that pump, so that when you return to rest it doesn’t have to work quite as hard to deliver the same amount of blood around the body. Put another way, over time regular exercise gradually slows down your resting heart rate by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system and lowering your bpm.
Before we talk exercise, we’re going to pretend that if you’re a smoker you’ve stopped, you’ve put down the chips and picked up a bowl of nutrient-packed green veg and you’ve cut your drinking to a cheeky glass of red rather than a bottle. Well done you.
Now on to the sweaty bit. There are three forms of training that have all been shown to have a positive impact on heart rate – interval training, resistance training and regular aerobic exercise like running or cycling – and plenty of good tracking tech to help you hit those training goals.