Place two fingers on your inner wrist or under your ear on your neck. Do you feel your pulse? How fast is it beating? Heart rates exceeding the resting target rate --between 60 and 100 beats per minute (bpm)-- can have adverse health effects, including lack of energy, poor circulation, lightheadedness, and dizziness.
With heart rate monitors on workout machines, watches and smartphones, we’re paying more attention to our tickers than ever, but do we know what we’re looking at? And how should that guide our workout? Asher Shafton, MD, a cardiologist at SCL Heart & Vascular Institute, breaks it down:
Resting heart rate: 60-80 beats per minute
Maximum target heart rate: Take 220 – your age. For a 40-year-old, the maximum would be 180.
Light Intensity: <64% of Max HR (<115 bpm for a 40 year old)
Moderate intensity: 64-76% of maximum heart rate (115-137 bpm for a 40 year old)
High intensity: 77-93% of maximum heart rate (137-167 bpm for a 40 year old)
With the importance of heart health in mind, we won’t skip a beat telling you three short-term and three long-term ways you can maintain a healthy heart rate.
Practice deep breathing: Inhaling and exhaling deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth is a yoga practice valuable outside the studio. Slow breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system (opposite the sympathetic nervous system responsible for the “fight or flight” reflex) and decreases heart rate.
Go for a walk, ideally outside: Stepping back from what is raising your heart rate --whether that be stressful holiday shopping or tiff with the mother-in-law about your pie recipe-- not only physically removes you from the stressor stimulus but also increases blood circulation in your body, taking the stress off your heart to pump faster.
Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol for the day: We know this can be hard around the holidays, but these stimulants can cause dehydration and cause the heart to pump harder.
Exercise frequently: Exercising begets stronger body muscles and stronger heart muscles. The more you exercise, the stronger your heart gets, and as a result, you can pump blood more efficiently.
“If you can carry on a conversation during a workout, your heart rate is probably at a good pace,” says Dr. Shafton. “If you are feeling light-headed and can’t carry on a conversation, then you should pay attention to your heart rate because you may be pushing yourself too hard. Listening to your body and knowing how you feel is key.”
Dr. Shafton says you should aim for 30-45 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a day and research shows that moderate-intensity exercise can reduce risk for heart attack, stroke and blood clots.
Eat foods rich in omega-3 and vitamins A and C: These nutrients help lower blood pressure and maintain a healthy heart. Omega-3s are commonly found in fish, lean meats, nuts, grains, and beans. You can find Vitamin A in green vegetables like kale and spinach and Vitamin C in citrus fruits and dark, leafy greens.
Get plenty of sleep: Sleep is your body’s chance to relax and repair. Chronic lack of sleep takes away your body’s R&R time. Health experts advise most adults to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
Although these tips won’t solve all your external heart stressors (sorry, we can’t fix your in-laws’ opinion of your baking) but they are manageable steps you can take yourself to have a healthy heart.
Dr. Asher Shafton is a board-certified cardiologist at SCL Health Heart & Vascular Institute, serving the Denver community. Learn more or make an appointment today.