While fitness trackers do a great job of providing you with immediate info like your daily step count and in-depth stats on your latest run or cycle, to truly get the most out of them you need to take advantage of data that shows your progress, or indeed lack of it, over a longer period of time.
There are a few different ways to do this. You could try to gradually increase your average steps per day, or monitor your weight, although that will require linking your tracker to smart scales or entering it yourself in the app. Perhaps the best way to do it, though, is through your heart rate, and specifically your resting heart rate.
Many fitness trackers now offer 24/7 heart rate monitoring in addition to showing how your heart rate changes during exercise. The monitoring lets the device work out your resting heart rate, which is a good indication of your overall cardiovascular fitness.
You might already have some idea that bringing your resting heart rate down is an indication that you are getting fitter over time, but to flesh out all the details on this important health tracking stat, we enlisted an expert – Dr Yassir Javaid, cardiology advisor for Bupa UK.
What is a healthy resting heart rate?
Good news to start off with, the range for a healthy resting heart rate is pretty large.
“The normal resting heart rate for adults can range from 60 to 100 beats per minute,” says Javaid, “though many fit people can have a normal resting heart rate of below 60.”
“The reason for the big range is that your heart rate is dependent on your individual level of fitness and your age. Your heart rate can also fluctuate throughout the day, depending on what you’re doing and your stress levels, and it also tends to be lower when you’re asleep.”
What diseases are linked with a higher resting heart rate?
“The higher your resting heart rate is, the harder your heart is working,” says Javaid.
“A higher resting heart rate could be an indicator of stress or anxiety, or it could be because of an underlying infection or arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm).”
The dangers of a consistently high heart rate shouldn’t be underestimated. This is one to see your doc about.
“If you are experiencing a high resting heart rate – consistently above 100 beats per minute – or you have any symptoms associated with a fast heart rate such as breathlessness, then you should seek medical advice,” says Javaid.
“If you feel unwell or have chest pain then you should seek this advice urgently (calling 999 if necessary) because heart attack is also associated with fast heart rates.”
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How does exercise help lower a person’s resting heart rate?
Now you know the perils of a high resting heart rate, it’s time to do something to bring yours down. Exercise is just the ticket for a healthy ticker.
“Your heart, like all muscles in your body, becomes stronger the more you exercise,” says Javaid.
“The stronger your heart becomes, the more blood is pumped with every heartbeat and so the heart does not have to beat as fast to maintain the same output.”
What heart rate should you aim for during workouts?
Before you start thinking about the heart rate you should aim for with your workouts, you need to work out your max heart rate. Luckily there’s an easy calculation to do just that.
“Generally, you can find out what your maximum heart rate is by subtracting your age from 220,” says Javaid.
From there you can use a tracker to keep an eye on your heart during your workouts and ensure it hits the following percentage of your max for light, moderate and high-intensity exercise.
“For light exercise, which you should be starting with if you have not exercised for a while or never before, you should aim for a target of 50% of your maximum heart rate,” says Javaid.
“Moderate exercise should be to 50-70% of your maximum heart rate and for vigorous exercise like HIIT you should be aiming for up to 85% of maximum heart rate.”
So for a 28-year-old man it would break down like this:
- Max heart rate: 192
- Light exercise: 96
- Moderate exercise: 96-134
- HIIT: Up to 163
Given the accuracy issues of consumer heart rate trackers, especially wrist-based ones, you probably don’t need to aim for those targets exactly, but it’s a useful guide.
Basing workouts around your heart rate can also level the playing field if you’re exercising alongside people at different fitness levels. As long as you reach the same heart rate zone during the exercise, it doesn’t matter so much if your gym-bunny friend cranks out 30 burpees in the same time it takes you to do ten.