Lower your blood pressure. Get your heart rate up. Know your numbers.
When it comes to heart health, understanding all the numbers involved – and which should be up or down and when – can be confusing. But experts say it’s important to learn at least some of the basics to help maintain good cardiovascular health.
The measurements taken most often are heart rate and blood pressure, which are two different things.
“Blood pressure is the force of the blood moving through your vessels,” says Scott Collier, director of the Vascular Biology and Autonomic Studies Laboratories and a professor at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. “Heart rate is the number of times in one minute that your heart beats.”
Both measurements signal how well the heart gets blood flowing to the rest of the body, he adds.
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“You can tell what kind of shape you’re in by looking at your heart rate,” Collier shares. “If your heart is in really good shape, it does not have to beat as many times to get the blood flowing.”
A normal resting heart rate for most adults is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. But people who exercise may have lower heart rates, with some athletes showing resting rates as low as 40 beats per minute.
However, during exercise, heart rate goes up – as it should, he said. A person’s target heart rate during exercise varies by age, but should be 50-70 percent of their maximum rate during moderate exercise and 70-85 percent during vigorous activity. For example, a person in their 20s would aim for a heart rate of 100-170 beats per minute while exercising, whereas a person in their 50s should aim for 85-145 beats per minute.
Many exercise machines help people monitor their heart rate during a workout. So do smartwatches. Measuring heart rate before, during and after exercise can help a person make sure they are working hard enough and also monitor their overall fitness level, Collier adds.
Dr. John Flack, professor and chair of the department of internal medicine at Southern Illinois University in Springfield, said it’s important to know if a person’s heart rate – also commonly referred to as pulse rate – is consistently outside the