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Resting Heart Rate and Recovery Heart Rate

A slow resting heart rate is often used as a measure of fitness, but your recovery heart rate is far more dependable.

A study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise shows that a 20-week program of endurance training does not slow the resting heart rate, so it cannot be used as a measure of fitness (1). The best way to measure fitness is to check how long it takes for your heart to slow down after you've exercised as hard as you can. This is called your recovery heart rate.

Another study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that recovery heart rate is one of the best tests to predict your risk for having a heart attack (2). Recovery heart rate is a measure of fitness and a slow recovery from exercise means that you are out of shape. The study really shows that being out of shape increases your chances of having a heart attack.

To measure your recovery heart rate, exercise in your sport as hard as you can for more than 10 minutes. If you run regularly, run fast. If you ride a bicycle, pedal rapidly. Then check your pulse on a heart rate monitor, or place your hands on the sides of your neck where you feel a pulse. Count your pulse for only six seconds and multiply that number times ten to get your heart rate per minute. Your heart slows down immediately after you stop exercising. The longer you count your pulse, the more it will slow down. Wait exactly sixty seconds and then check your monitor again, or count your pulse for six seconds and again multiply that number times ten.

If your heart does not slow down at least thirty beats per minute in the first minute, you are in poor shape. If it slows down more than fifty beats in the first minute, you are in excellent shape. You can use the recovery pulse rate to measure improvements in fitness. Do not use this test if there is any question of heart damage; hard exercise cannot hurt a healthy heart, but it can cause irregular heart beats in people who have damaged hearts. More

1. Wilmore JH et al. Endurance exercise training has a minimal effect on resting heart rate: the Heritage study. Medicine and Science in Sprts and Exercise. 1996 (July); 28(7): 829-835.

2. Cole CR et al. Hear-rate recovery immediately after exercise as a predictor of mortality. New England Journal of Medicine 1999(October 28);341(18):1351-7.

By Gabe Mirkin, M.D., for CBS Radio News
Checked 12/14/13

June 4th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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