The heart rate is the number of rhythmic contractions, beats per minute (bpm), of the heart. This rate is used as a measure of cardiac activity. The normal heart rate should be strong and regular without any missed beats.1 Measuring heart rate is an effective way to determine the overall fitness of a person as well as the presence of any medical concerns.
The heart rate is measured by finding the pulse of the body, which can be measured at any point where an artery’s pulsation is transmitted to the surface, often compressed against a bone. The index or middle finger can be used to manually detect another’s pulse, but the thumb should not be used, as its strong pulse may interfere with determining the site of the other person’s pulse. The most common sites to measure heart rate are the radial artery at the wrist and the carotid artery at the neck, but there are numerous other sites, including arteries on the feet, knees, groin, chest, abdomen, and temple.2
The pulse is also detected by medical professionals with a stethoscope or with heart monitors. A more precise method of determining heart rate is the use of an electrocardiograph, abbreviated ECG or EKG, that records the electrical impulses of the heart. A cardiac stress test is the most accurate way of measuring maximum safe heart rate. The person is monitored by an EKG while increasing the exercise intensity to determine heart function. Commercial heart monitors can be used by individuals for their own purposes to allow continuous accurate measurements to be taken during exercise when a manual measurement would be difficult.3
Heart rate can be measured as a resting heart rate (RHR) when the person is resting, which is best measured early in the morning just after awaking. It can also be measured during exercise, which is called a working heart rate. This rate is best measured during exercise or within 5 minutes after performing strenuous exercise.4
Normal heart rates vary for specific groups of people. The normal heart rate for infants under 1 year is 100 to 160 bpm. Normal for children from 1-5 years of age is 95 to 140 bpm, while those from 5-10 years of age have a normal heart rate of 80 to 120 bpm. An adult man has a normal heart rate of about 70 bpm, but measurements between 60 to 100 bpm are considered healthy. For women, the normal heart rate is between 70 to 80 bpm, but in pregnancy the heart rate may increase to 85 to 90 bpm. Measurements for women between 60 to 90 bpm is considered healthy. For well-trained athletes, the normal heart rate is low, usually between 40 to 60 bpm, depending on their fitness level.5
Maintaining a healthy heart rate is an important aspect of health and fitness. Cardiovascular endurance is the ability of the heart, lungs, and vascular system to supply oxygen during sustained physical activity. To develop good cardiovascular endurance involves frequency, duration, and intensity. The greater the frequency, the longer the duration, and the more intense the activity has a greater impact on improving cardiovascular endurance. Aerobic activities that increase the heart rate and are maintained for at least 15 minutes, such as running, riding a bicycle, and swimming, are good activities for children. Anaerobic exercise, which is high-intensity exercise of short duration, such as playing tag or ball games at recess, does not depend on the body’s ability to supply oxygen, but this exercise also improves cardiovascular endurance. Both contribute to a healthy heart, lungs, and vascular system.6
- 1. “Fast Heart Rate.” Healthline. < http://www.healthline.com/hlc/fast-heart-rate > 29 Sep. 2010.
- 2. “What is Heart Rate?” The Medical News. < http://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Heart-Rate.aspx > 29 Sep. 2010.
- 3. Ibid.
- 4. “Normal Heart Rate.” Buzzle.com. < http://www.buzzle.com/articles/normal-heart-rate.html > 29 Sep. 2010.
- 5. Ibid.
- 6. Gallahue, David L. and Frances Cleland Donnelly. Developmental Physical Education for All Children. 4th ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. 2003. pp. 86-87.