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28th March, 20215 min read

What is a normal heart rate?

Medical reviewer:Dr Ann Nainan
Author:Libby Williams
Last reviewed: 25/03/2021
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

As the heart beats, it pumps blood around the body, keeping us alive. This happens without us thinking about it very often – but do you know your heart rate? What about your maximum heart rate? Or how to work out what your target heart rate should be while exercising? Get the answers here.

What is your heart rate?

Your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute (bpm). Your heart rate will vary and depends on what you’re doing – it will be faster when you’re exercising and slower when you’re sleeping, for example.

It’s a good idea to know your normal heart rate so you can be aware of any changes that may be a sign of a health problem. You may also want to monitor your heart rate when exercising, as this can help you track your fitness.

How to measure your heart rate

  1. Find your pulse on the side of your neck under your jaw or on your wrist.

  2. When you can feel your pulse, press down lightly with your first and second finger.

  3. Count the number of beats you feel for 60 seconds. This gives you your heart rate in beats per minute.

You can also buy a digital heart rate monitor to check your heart rate. They’re usually quite affordable and can be found in most pharmacies and larger supermarkets.

What is a normal heart rate?

In a healthy adult, a normal resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 bpm. Your resting heart rate can be affected by many things including stress, anxiety, hormones, medication and how much exercise you do. A good time to measure your resting heart rate is after a good night’s sleep and before you get out of bed.

When to see your doctor

You should consult your doctor as soon as possible if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • low heart rate (less than 60 bpm)
  • high heart rate (over 100 bpm)
  • fainting
  • dizziness
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • a sudden change in the rhythm of your heartbeat

Normal heart rate when exercising

During exercise, your heart rate will go up. To work out what your heart rate should be when you exercise (your target heart rate), you first need to know your maximum heart rate.

Your maximum heart rate depends on your age – you can work it out by taking your age away from 220. For example, if you’re 46 years old, your maximum heart rate is 174 bpm (220 - 46 = 174).

Your target heart rate during exercise is between 50% and 70% of this number. So, if you’re 46 years old, your target heart rate would be between 87 and 122 bpm.

Does age affect heart rate?

As an adult, whatever your age, your resting heart rate should be between 60 and 100 bpm. However, your maximum heart rate does decrease with age – which means your target heart rate when exercising also goes down as you get older.

Here’s a guide to estimated maximum and target heart rates as you age:

What is a high heart rate?

Tachycardia is the medical term for a fast heartbeat – a resting heart rate of over 100 bpm. When the heart beats too fast, it may not pump blood around the body as it should, and organs and tissues can be starved of oxygen.

Symptoms of tachycardia include:

  • shortness of breath
  • feeling lightheaded
  • heart palpitations (a pounding, fluttering or irregular heartbeat)
  • chest pain
  • fainting

Sometimes, tachycardia has no symptoms.

Treatment for tachycardia includes medication and sometimes procedures or surgery to help control the heartbeat.

If tachycardia is left untreated, it can cause heart failure, stroke, sudden cardiac arrest or death.

What is a low heart rate?

A low heart rate of less than 60 bpm is called bradycardia. For some people, like athletes and healthy young people, a slow heart rate isn’t considered a health problem.

Sometimes people with bradycardia won’t have any symptoms. However, there are some to look out for:

  • feeling faint or fainting
  • feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • tiredness
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pains
  • confusion or memory problems
  • get tired easily during physical activity

Bradycardia can be serious if your heart isn’t pumping enough oxygen-rich blood around your body. A pacemaker can help correct bradycardia and keep your heart beating as it should.

What is your heart rhythm?

A normal heartbeat should be at a regular and steady pace – this is considered a healthy heart rhythm.

An irregular heart rhythm, which can also be very fast, is called atrial fibrillation. Most often it affects people over the age of 65 and is more likely if you have other conditions, such as high blood pressure, atherosclerosis or a heart valve problem.

Symptoms include:

  • feeling dizzy
  • being short of breath
  • tiredness
  • heart palpitations
  • fast heart rate (over 100 bpm)

Again, some people don’t experience any symptoms so may not be aware they have an irregular heartbeat.

If left untreated, atrial fibrillation can lead to stroke and heart failure. Treatment includes medications and procedures that work to control the heart rate and restore normal heart rhythm.

Key points

  • a normal heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute (bpm)
  • a low heart rate is less than 60 bpm
  • a high heart rate is over 100 bpm
  • you can measure your heart rate by taking your pulse for 60 seconds
  • see your doctor if you have a fast or slow heart rate or irregular heartbeat rhythm
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