How to find out your heart rate

Four methods to measure your resting heart rate

What is your resting heart rate?

When you exercise, your heart rate increases and can vary depending upon the intensity of the exercise you do. Therefore, it is often more relevant to measure your resting heart rate - the number of times your heart beats while you are completely at rest.

Why is this important?

Heart rate can be an indicator of heart function and cardiovascular fitness. This can be relevant for certain medications, such as beta-blockers, but also for gaining a better picture of your general health.

What is a normal heart rate?

Heart rate can vary by age and sex, but a normal resting heart rate for adults is between 60 and 100 beats per minute (BPM). A lower heart rate, suggests better cardiovascular fitness, so a more athletic person, may have a normal resting heart rate closer to 40 or 50 bpm. Use the charts below to see how you heart rate compares to the average heart rate for your age group.

Heart rate in men (beats per minute)

Age 18-25 26-35 36-45 46-55 56-65 65 +
Athlete 49-55 49-54 50-56 50-57 51-56 50-55
Excellent 56-61 55-61 57-62 58-63 57-61 56-61
Great 62-65 62-65 63-66 64-67 62-67 62-65
Good 66-69 66-70 67-70 68-71 68-71 66-69
Average 70-73 71-74 71-75 72-76 72-75 70-73
Below Average 74-81 75-81 76-82 77-83 76-81 74-79
Poor 82 + 82 + 83 + 84 + 82 + 80 +

Heart rate in women (beats per minute)

Age 18-25 26-35 36-45 46-55 56-65 65 +
Athlete 54-60 54-59 54-59 54-60 54-59 54-59
Excellent 61-66 60-64 60-64 61-65 60-64 60-64
Great 66-69 65-68 65-69 66-69 65-68 65-68
Good 70-73 69-72 70-73 70-73 69-73 69-72
Average 74-78 73-76 74-78 74-77 74-77 73-76
Below Average 79-84 77-82 79-84 78-83 78-83 77-84
Poor 85 + 83 + 85 + 84 + 84 + 85 +

How can I measure my heart rate?

There are several different methods for measuring your heart rate, we’ll outline some of them here: 

Taking your pulse

The traditional method for finding your heart rate involves taking your pulse. There are several places where you can find your pulse, but one of the easiest is your wrist. 

  1. Make sure you have a watch with a second hand or a timer/stopwatch to hand. An analog watch can be easier to use than a digital one because you can see when 30 seconds have passed (the second hand has moved halfway around the clock face). 
  2. Place your first two fingers on your wrist, just beneath the base of your thumb. (Note: It is important that you use your fingers to measure your pulse, not your thumb as your thumb can have a pulse of its own)
  3. Press down, until you can feel your pulse. (It can take a while to find the right spot, so feel free to move your fingers around a bit until you can find it).
  4. Count the number of beats you can feel in 30 seconds.
  5. Take that number and multiply it by 2 to find the number of beats per minute. This is your heart rate. e.g. 40 x 2 = 80 bpm.

If you can’t find your pulse in your wrist, you could try finding it on your neck. To do this, place your first two fingers on the side of your neck, just below your jaw and approx. 2-3 inches round to one side. You should be able to feel a pulse here, but you might need to press harder or move your fingers around to find it. Once you’ve found it, follow steps 4 and 5 above. 

 

Using a smartwatch or fitness watch

Many smartwatches and fitness watches can now measure your heart rate. These use sensors to measure the amount of blood flowing through the blood vessels of your wrist at any given time. Different manufacturers may do things slightly differently, so we recommend that you refer to their instructions. Often there will be a heart icon or ‘BPM’ to show you which value is your heart rate. 

Please note: These devices are not always very accurate when it comes to heart rate, therefore we recommend you use the pulse method for medical purposes. If you struggle to find your pulse, or if you want to check your heart rate regularly, smartwatches can be a great alternative, but we recommend that you check how reliable the reading is, by comparing it with your pulse. 

How to measure your heart rate using an Apple Watch

  1. Ensure that your watch is on your wrist and that there is nothing between the watch and your skin. 
  2. Swipe the clock face upwards
  3. Swipe left or right until you find the heartbeat
  4. Wait for 10-20 seconds, whilst the watch measures your heart rate. 

How to measure your heart rate using a Fitbit

Different Fitbit models can work differently. The following instructions would apply to most Fitbit devices. 

  1. Ensure that your Fitbit is on your wrist and that there is nothing between the watch and your skin.
  2. Swipe upwards on the clock face
  3. You should be able to see your current heart rate in Fitbit Today.

 

Using a home blood pressure monitor

Home blood pressure monitors often also measure your heart rate. Simply use your blood pressure monitor, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Your heart rate should be shown on the display when the reading is complete. This can appear differently on each device, but it would usually be labeled as ‘Heart rate’, ‘HR’, ‘Pulse’ or ‘BPM’. 

 

Using a stethoscope

Basic stethoscopes can be purchased at a relatively low cost. This is a good way to measure your heart rate if you struggle to find your pulse. 

  1. Make sure you have a clock with a second hand, or a timer/stopwatch available. An analog clock can be easier to use than a digital one because you can see when 30 seconds have passed (the second hand has moved halfway around the clock face). 
  2. Place the earpieces of the stethoscope into your ears. The earpieces are usually angled and should be placed so that the tips of the earpieces are pointing forwards in your ear. You can tap gently on the other end of the stethoscope (the chest piece) to see if you can hear clearly. Some stethoscopes may have a double-sided chest piece, and you may need to twist the end of the chest piece on its stem to select the correct side (the larger side). 
  3. Place the chest piece on your chest. It should be in line with your nipples but slightly to your left. It is often easiest to hear if you place the stethoscope directly against the skin, but it should also work through a thin layer of clothing. Move the stethoscope around until you can hear your heartbeat.  
  4. Heartbeats have two parts, producing a ‘lub-dub’ sound. This two-part sound is produced by different parts of your heart contracting. Therefore, each ‘lub-dub’ counts as one heartbeat, not two heartbeats. 
  5. When you are ready, count the number of heartbeats you can hear within 30 seconds. 
  6. Multiply that number by 2 to get the number of beats per minute. This is your heart rate. e.g. 40 x 2 = 80 bpm.

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