Heart disease is a leading cause of death, so it’s important to keep track of your heart’s state of health. Getting regular checkups with your doctor is the best way to do that. It’s also a good idea to understand the basic “heart-health numbers,” which are measures of cardiovascular fitness and may indicate risks for certain medical conditions.
- High blood pressure develops when blood flows through the arteries at greater-than-normal pressures. Symptoms usually do not appear until high blood pressure has already caused serious health problems, so it is important to have blood pressure checked regularly.
- Your blood pressure is made up of two numbers: systolic pressure and diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure is the pressure when the heart pumps blood out. Diastolic pressure is the pressure between heartbeats, when the heart is filling with blood. For most adults, a healthy blood pressure is less than 120 over 80. It is written as systolic pressure (120) over diastolic pressure (80), or 120/80 mm Hg.
- Some health care professionals diagnose patients with high blood pressure if their blood pressure is consistently 140/90 mm Hg or higher. This limit is based on guidelines released in 2003. Other health care professionals diagnose patients with high blood pressure if their blood pressure is consistently 130/80 mm Hg or higher. This limit is based on guidelines released in 2017.
Your heart rate, or pulse, is the number of times your heart beats per minute. Normal heart rate varies according to age and from person to person, and it can be affected by medications, illness, and stress. These numbers are averages and should be used as general guidelines.
- Resting heart rate: the heart pumping the lowest amount of blood needed when you are not engaged in physical activity. If you’re sitting or lying and you’re calm and not sick, your heart rate normally is 60-100 beats per minute (BPM).
- Maximum heart rate (MHR): the upper limit of what your cardiovascular system can handle during physical activity. To find your MHR, subtract your age from 220. For example, if you’re 50 years old, subtract 50 from 220 to get a maximum heart rate of 170 BPM. This is the average maximum number of times your heart should beat per minute during exercise.
- Target heart rate: the safe, healthy rate at which the heart should beat during physical activity. Once you know your maximum heart rate, you can calculate your desired target heart rate zone — the level at which your heart is being exercised and conditioned but not overworked.
For vigorous physical activity, your target heart rate should be between 77% and 93% of your maximum heart rate. For moderate physical activity, your target heart rate should be between 64% and 76% of your maximum heart rate. However, unless you’re in excellent physical condition, any physical activity that boosts your heart rate above 75% of your maximum rate probably is too much. Any activity that increases your heart rate to less than 50% of your maximum rate is probably not enough to condition the heart and lungs.
A rising heart rate does not cause your blood pressure to increase at the same rate. As the heart beats more times per minute during exercise, your heart rate increases, and vessels become larger so that more blood flows to muscle tissue. It is possible for the heart rate to double while blood pressure rises only slightly.
Regular physical activity varies from person to person, depending on age, fitness, and other health factors. The following recommendations are averages.
- Strive for an average of 30 minutes of moderate activity on most or all days of the week to reduce the risk of heart disease for most adults. This level of activity also can lower your risk for stroke, colon cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
- Sixty minutes of moderate to vigorous activity on most days of the week is recommended if you’re also trying to manage your weight and prevent gradual, unhealthy weight gain. Take in only enough calories to maintain your weight.
- Sixty to 90 minutes of moderate activity daily is recommended for those trying to lose weight. Try to get to this level without taking in extra calories.
When to See Your Doctor
- If you have frequent episodes of unexplained fast heart rates, especially if they cause you to feel weak or dizzy
- If you feel a fluttering in your chest or have the feeling that your heart is skipping a beat or beating too hard, or if you get short of breath when active
From hypertension to heart transplants, the nationally ranked UAB Cardiovascular Institute offers the full range of cardiovascular care. Learn more here.