Endurance athletes often have a lower resting heart rate than others. Heart rate is measured in beats per minute (bpm). Your resting heart rate is best measured when you’re sitting or lying down, and you’re in a calm state.
If you’re an athlete or someone who exercises often, a lower resting heart rate isn’t usually anything to be worried about, unless you’re dizzy, tired, or ill. In fact, it typically means you’re in good shape.
An athlete’s resting heart rate may be considered low when compared to the general population. A young, healthy athlete may have a heart rate of 30 to 40 bpm.
That’s likely because exercise strengthens the heart muscle. It allows it to pump a greater amount of blood with each heartbeat. More oxygen is also going to the muscles. This means the heart beats fewer times per minute than it would in a nonathlete. However, an athlete’s heart rate may go up to 180 bpm to 200 bpm during exercise.
Resting heart rates vary for everyone, including athletes. Some factors that could influence it include:
- fitness level
- amount of physical activity
- air temperature (on hot or humid days, heart rate may increase)
- emotion (stress, anxiety, and excitement can increase heart rate)
- medication (beta blockers can slow heart rate, while some thyroid medications can increase it)
How low is too low?
An athlete’s resting heart rate is usually only considered too low when they have other symptoms. These may include fatigue, dizziness, or weakness.
Symptoms such as these may indicate there’s another issue. See a doctor if you experience these symptoms alongside a slow heart rate.
Athletic heart syndrome
Athletic heart syndrome is a heart condition that’s usually harmless. It’s typically seen in people who exercise for more than one hour each day. Athletes with a resting heart rate of 35 to 50 bpm may develop an arrhythmia, or irregular heart rhythm.
This may show up as abnormal on an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG). Usually, there’s no need to diagnose athletic heart syndrome because it doesn’t present any health problems. But always let a doctor know if you:
- experience chest pain
- notice your heart rate seems irregular when measured
- have fainted during exercise
Occasionally athletes do collapse due to a heart problem. But that’s usually because of an underlying condition such as congenital heart disease, not athletic heart syndrome.
New research suggests that athletes with low resting heart rates may experience irregular heart patterns later in life. One study found that lifelong endurance athletes had a higher incidence of later electronic pacemaker implantation.
Research is still ongoing on the long-term effects of endurance exercise. Researchers aren’t recommending any changes to your athletic routine at this time. See a doctor if you’re concerned about your low heart rate.
Well-trained athletes may have a resting heart rate between 30 and 40 bpm. But everyone’s heart rate is different. There’s no “ideal” resting heart rate, even though a lower resting heart rate may mean you’re more fit.
You can measure your resting heart rate at home. Take your resting heart rate by checking your pulse first thing in the morning.
- gently press the tips of your index and middle finger over the lateral part of your wrist, just below the thumb side of your hand
- count the beats for a full minute (or count for 30 seconds and multiply by 2, or count for 10 seconds and multiply by 6)
Some athletes like to follow target-heart-rate training. This is based on your intensity level compared to your maximum heart rate.
Your maximum heart rate is considered the highest amount your heart can sustain during cardiovascular training. To determine your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220.
Most athletes train at between 50 and 70 percent of their maximum heart rate. For example, if your maximum heart rate is 180 bpm, your target-training zone would be between 90 and 153 bpm. Use a heart rate monitor to keep track during exercise.
Going higher than your maximum heart rate for long periods of time could be dangerous for your health. Always stop exercising if you feel lightheaded, dizzy, or ill.
Athletes often have a lower resting heart rate than others. If you exercise frequently and are reasonably fit, your heart rate may be lower than other people. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A low heart rate means your heart needs fewer beats to deliver the same amount of blood throughout your body.
Always seek medical care if you experience dizziness, chest pain, or fainting. Also see a doctor if you suspect your low heart rate is accompanied by other symptoms like fatigue or dizziness. They can assess your heart to confirm you can continue exercising.