What is your pulse?
Your pulse is your heart rate, or the number of times your heart beats in one minute. Pulse rates vary from person to person. Your pulse is lower when you are at rest and increases when you exercise (more oxygen-rich blood is needed by the body when you exercise). Knowing how to take your pulse can help you evaluate your exercise program.
How to take your pulse
- Place the tips of your index, second and third fingers on the palm side of your other wrist below the base of the thumb. Or, place the tips of your index and second fingers on your lower neck on either side of your windpipe.
- Press lightly with your fingers until you feel the blood pulsing beneath your fingers. You may need to move your fingers around slightly up or down until you feel the pulsing.
- Use a watch with a second hand, or look at a clock with a second hand.
- Count the beats you feel for 10 seconds. Multiply this number by six to get your heart rate (pulse) per minute.
Count your pulse: _____ beats in 10 seconds x 6 = _____ beats/minute
What is a normal pulse?
Normal Heart Rates at Rest:
- Children (ages 6 - 15) 70 – 100 beats per minute
- Adults (age 18 and over) 60 – 100 beats per minute
What is maximum heart rate?
The maximum heart rate is the highest heart rate achieved during maximal exercise. One simple method to calculate your predicted maximum heart rate, uses this formula:
220 - your age = predicted maximum heart rate
Example: a 40-year-old's predicted maximum heart rate is 180 beats/minute.
There are other formulas that take into account the variations in maximal heart rate with age and gender. If you are interested in learning more about these more accurate but slightly more complicated formulas please see these resources:
- Gellish RL, Goslin BR, Olson RE, McDonald A, Russi GD, Moudgil VK. Longitudinal modeling of the relationship between age and maximal heart rate. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007 May;39(5):822-9. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17468581
- Gulati M, Shaw LJ, Thisted RA, Black HR, Bairey Merz CN, Arnsdorf MF. Heart rate response to exercise stress testing in asymptomatic women: the st. James women take heart project. Circulation. 2010 Jul 13;122(2):130-7. Epub 2010 Jun 28. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20585008
Please note that some medications and medical conditions may affect your heart rate. If you are taking medications or have a medical condition (such as heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes), always ask your doctor if your maximum heart rate/target heart rate will be affected. If so, your heart rate ranges for exercise should be prescribed by your doctor or an exercise specialist.
Your actual maximum heart rate is most accurately determined by a medically supervised maximal graded exercise test.
What is target heart rate?
- You gain the most benefits and lessen the risks when you exercise in your target heart rate zone. Usually this is when your exercise heart rate (pulse) is 60 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate. In some cases, your health care provider may decrease your target heart rate zone to begin with 50 percent.
- It is not recommended to exercise above 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. Intensity at that level increases both cardiovascular and orthopedic risk with minimal, additional health-related benefit from the exercise.
- Always check with your health care provider before starting an exercise program. Your health care provider can help you find a program and target heart rate zone that matches your needs, goals and physical condition.
- When beginning an exercise program, you may need to gradually build up to a level that is within your target heart rate zone, especially if you have not exercised regularly before. If the exercise feels too hard, slow down. You will reduce your risk of injury and enjoy the exercise more if you don't try to over-do it!
- To find out if your are exercising in your target zone (between 60 and 80 percent of your maximum heart rate), stop exercising and check your 10-second pulse. If your pulse is below your target zone, increase your rate of exercise. If your pulse is above your target zone, decrease your rate of exercise.
What is your target zone?
Target Heart Rate Zones by Age *
||Target Heart Rate (HR) Zone (60 - 85%)
||Predicted Maximum HR
||120 – 170
||117 – 166
||114 – 162
||111 – 157
||108 – 153
||105 – 149
||102 – 145
||99 – 140
||96 – 136
||93 – 132
||90 – 123
Your Actual Values
(Actual values are determined from a graded exercise test)
* This chart is based on the the formula: 220 - your age = predicted maximum heart rate
For more information about exercise
Your pulse and your target heart rate, Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute at Cleveland Clinic, Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation Program, Cleveland, Ohio 216.444.9353