Pulse & Heart Rate
What is your heart rate?
Your heart rate is the number of times that your heart beats in a minute. Your body automatically controls your heartbeat to match whatever you're doing or what's happening around you. That's why your heartbeat gets faster when you're active, excited or scared, and drops when you're resting, calm or comfortable.
Your heart rate is an important indicator of your overall health too. When your heart rate is too fast or too slow, that can be a sign of heart or other health problems. The ability to feel your heart rate throughout your body is also a potential way for doctors to diagnose medical conditions.
Is there a difference between your heart rate and your pulse?
There’s a connection between your heart rate and your pulse, but they aren’t the same. Your heart rate is how fast your heart is beating at a given time. Your pulse is how you can feel your heart rate.
Every time your heart beats, it squeezes and propels blood through the network of arteries in your body. Your pulse is the pressure in your arteries going up briefly as your heart pushes out more blood to keep circulation going. Between beats, your heart relaxes, which brings the pressure back down again. That’s why each heartbeat feels like a single push rather than a constant flow of pressure like water through a hose.
There are several places where the arteries are very close to your skin, some of which are easier to feel than others because of your body characteristics. Depending on the place, certain points are where it’s easiest for you or a healthcare professional to feel your pulse.
What are the different ways to feel your pulse, and why do they matter?
You can easily feel your pulse at the following points (use your index and ring finger together and don’t press too hard):
- Neck (carotid artery). Start at your earlobe and trace your finger along your skin straight down. Just underneath your jawbone, you should be able to feel your pulse.
- Wrist (radial artery). Holding your hand with your palm upward, this point is where the fleshy muscle of your thumb merges into your wrist.
- Inside your elbow (brachial artery). Start at the center hollow area of the inside of your elbow with the fingers of your opposite hand. Slowly pull those fingers along your skin toward your body. You should be able to feel your pulse just slightly off-center of the inside of your elbow.
In addition to these arteries, healthcare providers may also feel for your pulse in other locations. These places can be tricky to find without training but can be very helpful when a provider is looking for a specific issue or problem.
- Temporal (level with your ear canal, and just forward of the fleshy ridge where your ear meets your cheek).
- Chest (apical, just above your heart).
- Belly (abdominal aorta).
- Where your upper thigh meets your body (femoral artery).
- Behind your knee (popliteal artery).
- On your feet (posterior tibial and dorsalis pedis arteries).
How do I use my pulse to measure my heart rate?
Once you’ve found your pulse (the easiest places are usually your neck or wrist), you can figure out your pulse rate by counting the number of heartbeats in 60 seconds. If you want an answer faster, all it takes is a little bit of math. The easiest ways to do that are:
- Count heartbeats for 10 seconds. Once 10 seconds are up, multiply the number you counted by six.
- Count heartbeats for 15 seconds. Once 15 seconds are up, multiply the number you counted by four.
- Count heartbeats for 30 seconds. Once 30 seconds is up, multiply the number you counted by two.
The number you get from any of those three methods is your “beats per minute,” which is your heart rate. The abbreviation for beats per minute is “bpm.”
If you find your heart rate when you’re not active, that’s your resting heart rate. You can also do this during or immediately after exercise. Finding your heart rate during exercise is a key way to know if your exercise is not intense enough, too intense or just right.
Should I be able to hear my pulse in my ears?
In some cases, yes, you can actually hear your pulse in your ears. Known as pulsatile tinnitus, this is sometimes possible by resting your head on your arm or hand. However, the sound should go away if you change position. If you can hear your pulse in your ears even after you change position, you should call your healthcare provider.
What heart rate should I expect to have?
Your resting heart rate depends on how old you are and your overall health. The younger you are, the higher your heart rate tends to be.
The expected resting heart rate ranges for children are:
- Newborns (birth to 4 weeks): 100 - 205 beats bpm*.
- Infant (4 weeks to 1 year): 100 – 180 bpm*.
- Toddler (1 to 3 years): 98 - 140 bpm*.
- Preschool (3 to 5 years): 80 - 120 bpm.
- School-age (5 to 12 years): 75 - 118 bpm.
- Adolescents (13 to 18 years): 60 - 100 bpm.
For adults (ages 18+), the expected resting heart rate range is 60 - 100 bpm.
*These rates are for children while they’re awake. They will likely be lower when they’re asleep.
What if my resting heart rate isn’t in the expected range?
When your resting heart rate falls outside of these ranges, either too high or too low, it might be a sign of a problem.
- Tachycardia: This is when your resting heart rate is over 100 bpm, an unusually high rate.
- Bradycardia: This is when your resting heart rate is under 60 bpm, an unusually low rate.
However, an important detail to keep in mind if you are very physically active is that you might have a resting heart rate under 60 beats per minute. Competitive athletes can have resting heart rates as low as 40 bpm or so. For the average person, however, that rate would be dangerously low.
What are my target and maximum heart rates?
Your target heart rate is the ideal range to keep your heart in during moderate-intensity exercise. Moderate-intensity exercise is ideal because it is high enough that it is good for your heart but not so high that you strain yourself.
If you want to exercise very strenuously, you can go up to around 95% of your maximum heart rate. You should be careful not to go too high, however. If you go too high, the potential risks outweigh the benefits.
If you don't exercise regularly, you should also talk to your healthcare provider before starting an exercise routine. This is especially important if you have any health problems, particularly problems with your heart, breathing or circulation. Your healthcare provider is the best person to guide you on safe, effective ways to stay active without putting your overall well-being at risk.
Use the following chart to find your maximum and target heart rates. The chart uses ages that are multiples of five, but the ways to calculate it yourself are also listed:
(220 - your age = maximum)
Target (60% to 80% of maximum)
Low (maximum x 0.6) — High (maximum x 0.8)
|20||200||120 to 160|
|25||195||117 to 156|
|30||190||114 to 152|
|35||185||111 to 148|
|40||180||108 to 144|
|45||175||105 to 140|
|50||170||102 to 136|
|55||165||99 to 132|
|60||160||96 to 128|
|65||155||93 to 124|
|70||150||90 to 120|
|75||145||87 to 116|
|80||140||84 to 112|
|85||135||81 to 108|
|90||130||78 to 104|
|95||125||75 to 100|
|100||120||72 to 96|
What should I do if I’m concerned about my heart rate?
If you have any concerns about your heart rate, you should talk to your primary healthcare provider. They are the best people who can either answer your questions or refer you to a specialist if necessary.
Signs you should talk to your provider about your heart rate include:
- Resting heart rate that is too consistently too fast or too slow.
- A heartbeat that skips or is irregular.
- If you feel a vibrating sensation when taking your pulse instead of a single "thump" when taking your pulse. This is called a "thrill," and it can be a sign of certain heart and circulatory problems.
- If you have heart palpitations (the unpleasant ability to feel your own heartbeat without feeling for your pulse).
You should also see your primary care provider at least once a year for an annual checkup or physical. Taking your heart rate is a normal part of that visit, and it’s also a way your provider can catch many problems early (including dangerous problems that have symptoms), many of which are treatable if caught early enough.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Your heart rate is one of the simplest and easiest ways for you to keep tabs on your own health. It's also a simple way for your healthcare provider to catch health problems early or diagnose problems happening to you now. More importantly, understanding your heart rate — especially your target rate — is a way to exercise smarter and not just harder. That way, you can get the most out of your activity and take good care of yourself.
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