Heart Rate Recovery
What is heart rate recovery?
Heart rate recovery (HRR) is a measurement of your heart’s ability to return to its normal, resting pace after you finish a workout. It’s the difference between your peak heart rate during exercise and your heart rate soon after you stop. HRR is measured in beats per minute (bpm).
Healthcare providers calculate your HRR when you undergo an exercise stress test. Your HRR is helpful for diagnosing and managing cardiovascular disease. Some people also calculate this number on their own to gauge their physical fitness.
How do I calculate my heart rate recovery?
You can calculate your heart rate recovery by wearing a reliable heart rate monitor and doing a bit of math. You need two numbers:
- Your peak heart rate during exercise. This is usually your heart rate at the very end of your workout. You should check it right when you finish the most intense part of your workout, not at the end of a cool-down.
- Your heart rate one minute after you finish your workout. Once you stop working out, rest for one minute. Check your heart rate after one minute has passed.
Then, do some subtraction:
Peak heart rate – heart rate after one minute = heart rate recovery (in beats per minute, bpm).
Your heart rate recovery has two phases:
- HRR fast phase: How much your heart rate goes down after 30 seconds or one minute of recovery.
- HRR slow phase: How much your heart rate goes down after two minutes or more, usually up to five minutes.
So, if you follow the one-minute method, you’re finding your “fast phase” heart rate recovery. This is a common method, and research shows it can reveal a lot about your heart health. Some research shows it’s valuable to measure your HRR after just 10 seconds.
Ask your provider which method is best for you and what your ideal HRR range should be.
What is a good heart rate recovery?
You might be wondering how quickly your heart rate should recover after you exercise. Overall, you want your heart rate to drop back to normal pretty quickly after you work out. The quicker it drops, the better. If your heart takes a while to return to its normal pace, that could be a sign of problems. In general, a good heart rate recovery after one minute of rest is:
- 18 beats or higher.
But there isn’t one magic number for everyone. What counts as a good heart rate recovery depends on many factors, including:
- Whether you have cardiovascular disease.
- Your age.
- The exercise method you use and what you do during your “rest” period.
- How long you rest before checking your heart rate.
Researchers have explored this topic since the 1990s. They’ve found different ways to measure your heart rate recovery during an exercise stress test. For example:
- If you have heart disease, your provider will likely ask you to keep moving after the main exercise. This is called an active rest, and it means you keep walking or cycling but at a much slower pace.
- If you don’t have heart disease, your provider may ask you to lay down flat for a passive rest.
Overall, it’s important to know that healthcare providers use many different ways to find your recovery heart rate. So, if you calculate your number on your own, it’s a good idea to share the number with your provider. They’ll help you understand what it means and provide tips for getting the most accurate measurement.
Plus, remember that providers use this number as just one piece of the larger diagnostic puzzle. Your HRR helps them get a sense of your overall health and your risk for future heart problems.
Why is recovery heart rate important?
Your heart rate recovery shows how well your heart is working and can help predict future heart issues. So, it’s an important number for your provider to measure when you have an exercise stress test. They may measure your HRR to:
- Check your heart function.
- Determine your mortality risk.
- See how certain treatments are working.
An abnormal HRR could be a sign that your autonomic nervous system isn’t working as it should. Your autonomic nervous system manages your heart rate and helps it return to normal after you exercise. This is the part of your nervous system that controls your involuntary movements (the ones you don’t think about). Scientists continue to study how problems with your autonomic nervous system impact your risk for heart disease.
For now, we know that people who have a low HRR are more likely to have conditions like:
An abnormal HRR also makes a person more likely to die from heart disease, according to research. This is true for people who have heart disease, as well as those who don’t yet have diagnosed risk factors.
This might seem like a bleak outlook. But it’s important to keep in mind that your healthcare provider can use your HRR to help plan prevention strategies. In other words, knowing your HRR is low can help both you and your provider take action to strengthen your heart health. So, if your HRR is low, don’t panic. Instead, know that you have one more tool in your toolkit that you can use to your advantage.
How can I improve my heart rate recovery?
Exercise can improve your heart rate recovery. If you’re already active and exercise regularly, talk with your provider about ways to enhance your workout plan.
If you’ve had a heart attack or surgery, cardiac rehab can improve your heart rate recovery and bolster your chances of long-term survival.
No matter your medical history, be sure to talk with your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise routine.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
In our current era of fitness watches and activity trackers, it can be easy to forget that the stats you log during your workout don’t tell the full story. How your heart responds during exercise is important. But we can also learn a lot from how it recovers.
So, after you finish strong and grab your water, take a minute to check your heart rate. Talk with your healthcare provider about what you notice. If you’ve had an exercise stress test, talk with your provider about the results and what they reveal about your heart disease risks.
Knowing your heart rate recovery is important at any age, even if you don’t have heart disease risk factors. It’s never too early to start thinking about your heart and how to prevent problems down the road.
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