It’s a simple, free approach to measure your overall fitness progression.
Dr. Jordan Metzl debunks some myths about running’s effects on the heart and discusses warning signs and risk factors all runners should look out for.
WHAT WILL CHANGE RESTING HEART RATE?
Heart rate is influenced by many factors like age, weight, medications, mood, sleep, time of day, caffeine, and so on. Because heart rate is influenced by so many of these variables, it’s best to measure it first thing in the morning for a more accurate insight.
This means before even getting out of bed. Allow yourself a minute or two to recover from the shock of the alarm clock going off, but then, count your pulse before your feet touch the ground.
HOW TO MEASURE RESTING HEART RATE
The average adult has an RHR between 60 and 100 beats per minute (bpm), while an athlete often has a rate between 40 and 60 bpm. I’ve found that you can find your pulse most easily on the underneath side of your wrist, at the base of your thumb. Turn your arm over and using your first two fingers, gently feel for a pulse on your wrist. Once you find it, feel it’s rhythmic, regular beat.
Then, using a clock with a second hand or the timer on your phone, count the number of beats you feel for 30 seconds and multiply this number by two (or count your pulse for the full minute). Write down the date and the number of beats you counted each morning for the next several weeks. After several measurements, you will have established your baseline pulse, or what is your “norm.”
Why is this measurement important? In general, RHR declines when fitness improves, so since you are just beginning your training, measuring your RHR now will allow you to track your fitness journey.
Regular aerobic exercise improves the effectiveness and efficiency of the cardiovascular system. All of the physiological adaptations ease the workload on our heart, allowing it to reduce the number of times it beats. Most researchers agree that this adds years to our lives.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO SEE A DIFFERENCE?
This does vary, but in general, runners can see changes within eight weeks. A lot of this depends upon how consistent you are and how many days a week you are running. If you are consistent and running three to four days a week, you’ll definitely see some decline in RHR within a couple months.
Once you know your average RHR, take note when it seems vastly different. For example, if your RHR is 10 beats higher one morning, it’s a clue that something might be going on.
ASK THE SPORTS DOC: Is My Resting Heart Rate Too Low?
Are you getting sick? Is it stress? Lack of sleep? Overtraining? This information gives you the opportunity to skip or alter a run, knowing you are not at your best. (If you do want to give some new tech a try, some advanced GPS watches are very helpful in monitoring your daily heart rate.)
On the other hand, when you see your RHR decline, you will know you are improving your health and fitness.
This article first appeared on Runner’s World magazine.