You’ve heard it before: The number on the scale does not tell the whole story. Certainly, in the world of fitness, your weight is an important number, but it isn’t the only number that indicates something good or bad is happening. When you make positive changes in the way of diet and exercise, it affects everything in your body. Seriously. Everything.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t have access to a laboratory to check our triglycerides or cholesterol. We can’t see what’s going on with our bone density or our risk of developing cancer. It’s difficult to track whether we have more energy or less depression or more glowing skin or stronger hair follicles. Shoot, most of us don’t even have calipers to measure our body fat percentage.
So, today we did what every other person in America did: We got on the scale and weighed ourselves. We were happy or not. We live and die by the number on the scale.
I mean, I don’t do that. YOU do that.
Well, I’m going to introduce you to a new number. A number you can measure in the privacy of your own home while you are lying in your bed. A number that is directly related to your fitness level.
Your Resting Heart Rate
How does exercise affect your heart?
Like other muscles, your heart responds in a healthy way to specific training. if your training is principally aerobic, your heart must handle a large volume of blood. Its internal chambers will enlarge slightly and its overall size will increase.
The stroke volume – the amount of blood ejected from the chambers with each beat-will also increase, as your pulse rate decreases. These adaptations allow your heart to pump blood with maximum efficiency.
On the other hand, weight-lifting or resistance training will cause your heart muscle to thicken without enlargement of its cavity. This adaptation enables it to generate the increased blood pressure necessary for anaerobic exercise but doesn’t contribute to a more efficient stroke volume or a lower pulse rate. If you combine aerobic and resistance training, your heart will of course show the benefits of both types of exercise.
What is a Resting Heart Rate?
Your resting heart rate is how many times your heart beats per minute while you are at rest. Generally speaking, lower your resting heart rate, the stronger and more fit your heart.
What is a Good or Bad Resting Heart Rate?
A resting heart rate for women is “normal” if it is between about 70-80 beats per minute. Over 83 beats per minute is too high and should warrant concern.
But physically fit people often have heart rates well below this. Lance Armstrong, for example, has a resting heart rate of 32. I’m no Lance Armstrong, but my resting heart rate is 51…which (yippee!) is better than “athlete,” according to the handy-dandy chart here.
And can I just tell you, after looking at that stupid number on my SCALE for the last year, I’m about ready to plaster my resting heart rate all over my mirror. Maybe make a t-shirt or a bumper sticker with “51” on it. It’s great to have a number to be proud of. Bad sentence structure there, but you know what I mean.
A little word of caution: Some researchers have noted increased resting heart rates with overtraining. If your resting heart rate suddenly increases from 60 to 70 beats per minute and you are working harder than usual, watch out! You may be overtraining and need to slow down. When you stop training completely your heart will return to your untrained heart rate within three to four weeks.
How do I Take My Resting Heart Rate?
It is best to take your resting heart rate first thing in the morning after you’ve had a good night’s sleep, before you get out of bed and before you eat or drink anything. Don’t do it on a day you have to wake up to an alarm. Or on a day the kids jump on you to wake you up. If you don’t ever have a day like that, you can take it after lying still for at least 15 minutes.
I know, you are wondering what alternate universe I live in that I can get a good night’s sleep, wake without an alarm and lie still during the day for 15 minutes. It’s pure bliss, here at the Cooper home. Pure bliss.
Place your index and middle fingers on your carotid artery on your neck or on your radial artery inside your wrist and count the beats. You can either take it for 6 seconds and multiply the number by 10, or just take it for a full 60 seconds. It is best to take it three days in a row and average those numbers together.
It is also a good idea to take you resting heart rate over a period of time and track the pattern. If you are starting a new physical fitness program, your heart rate should decrease, especially over the first 4 to 6 weeks of athletic training. As you become more fit and develop a regular fitness habit, you should see a decline in your resting heart rate. It is this decline, rather than the actual number that is a better indicator of fitness and exercise program success.
For very active athletes, watching resting heart rate over a period of time is helpful in order to watch for unusual peaks which may indicate overtraining or overstress.
What Else Affects Resting Heart Rate?
- hydration level
- high cholesterol
- blood vessel blockage
And if You REALLY Want to See How Fit You Are…
Look at your Recovery Heart Rate. Simply defined, recovery heart rate is how much your heart rate falls in the minute after peak exercise. In general, the faster your heart rate returns to normal, the more fit you are.
Doctors sometimes use heart rate recovery as a way to determine if a patient is at risk for heart problems. Abnormal heart rate recovery—or a decrease of 12 or fewer beats per minute—might indicate heart disease.
Normal heart rate recovery is considered to be a decrease of 15 to 25 beats per minute. Anyone in the normal heart rate recovery group probably has a less than one-percent chance of a major health problem, but abnormal heart rate recovery patients may see a risk of three to five percent per year. That’s really cool, isn’t it?
Measuring Recovery Heart Rate
Using a heart rate monitor is the best way to measure recovering heart rate. If you don’t have a heart rate monitor, but want to measure your heart rate recovery yourself after exercising, you can use the uncomplicated method of placing your index and middle fingers against your carotid artery in your neck or your radial artery under your wrist, as described above. Either count for a full 60 seconds (or for six seconds and multiply that number by 10.
You should first measure your heart rate while you’re working out at your peak level (that means exerting at your absolute maximum. Like a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10) and compare that number of beats per minute to the number of beats immediately after you stop, followed again by a measurement at one and two minutes post-workout.
Even if you’re in good health and don’t need to see a doctor for a heart condition, you can see if you’re becoming more fit by how quickly your heart rate drops after you stop moving. If one of your goals is to achieve optimum fitness, this is a simple and useful way to tell if you’re on the right track. You can measure your heart rate recovery and the higher your rate of decreasing heartbeats per minute, the more fit you’re becoming.
And this is really good news for a girl who’s scale hasn’t moved much in the last year, despite intense training. Not that I am that girl or anything.
And because I am only as smart as Google, here are my sources for this post: