Heart rates can vary from person to person, but what’s considered normal? And when is a heart rate considered dangerous? Read on to learn more.
While age and activity level can affect your heart rate, there are a few “normal” parameters.
As an explainer, your resting heart rate is when your heart is pumping the minimal amount of blood that your body needs because you’re at rest.
Normal resting heart rate for adults
For most adults — including senior adults — a normal resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute.
Athletes may find their heart rates lower, between 40 to 60 beats per minute.
Normal resting heart rate for kids
As children grow, their normal resting heart rate changes. According to the National Institute of Health:
- Newborns to 1 month old: 70 to 190 beats per minute
- Infants 1 to 11 months old: 80 to 160 beats per minute
- Children 1 to 2 years old: 80 to 130 beats per minute
- Children 3 to 4 years old: 80 to 120 beats per minute
- Children 5 to 6 years old: 75 to 115 beats per minute
- Children 7 to 9 years old: 70 to 110 beats per minute
- Children 10 years and older: 60 to 100 beats per minute
Factors that can affect resting heart rate
In addition to age, there are a few other factors that can affect your resting heart rate.
- Temperature. Your heart rate may increase slightly when you’re exposed to hot temperatures.
- Medication side effects. For example, medications such as beta-blockers can lower your resting heart rate.
- Emotions. If you’re anxious or excited, your heart rate may increase.
- Weight. People who are living with obesity may have a higher resting heart rate. This is because the heart has to work harder to supply the body with blood.
- Cardiovascular conditioning or deconditioning
- Endocrine or hormonal abnormalities.
- Postural tachycardia syndrome (PoTS). This syndrome produces an abnormal increase in heart rate after sitting up or standing. In addition to heart palpitations, some typical symptoms of PoTS include dizziness and fainting.
- Body positioning. Heart rate can increase temporarily when you move from a sitting to a standing position.
- Smoking. Smokers tend to have a higher resting heart rate. Quitting smoking can help bring it back down.
What is maximum heart rate?
Your maximum heart rate is a calculation that helps you figure out what your ideal target heart rate is during exercise.
You can estimate your maximum age-related heart rate
This maximum heart rate calculation helps you see if you’re exercising too hard, or not putting enough energy in. Your target heart rate uses this calculation to reflect the ideal bpm you need for a great workout.
So for this 35-year-old individual, a great target heart rate to aim for is between 93-157 bpm (50-85% of their maximum).
There may be times when you experience a heart rate that’s faster or slower than what is normal for you. Not every single instance of this type of bpm imbalance is considered “dangerous,” especially when it is being monitored by a doctor.
High heart rate
When your heart rate is too fast, it’s called tachycardia. For adults, a fast heart rate is defined as a heart rate
However, what’s considered too fast may also depend on your age and overall health.
Some possible causes of tachycardia can include:
- an underlying health condition
- anxiety or stress
- heavy caffeine consumption
- heavy alcohol consumption
- electrolyte imbalance
- hormonal problems (i.e., thyroid)
- intense or strenuous exercise or physical activity
- side effects from medication
- cigarette smoking
- certain drug use (such as cocaine)
Slow heart rate
For athletes and people that exercise regularly, a heart rate of under 60 beats per minute is normal and even healthy.
Some possible causes of bradycardia include:
- side effects from medications
- electrolyte imbalance
- obstructive sleep apnea
- an underlying health condition
- being an older adult
- problems with the conduction system of the heart
Borderline or occasional bradycardia may not need treatment. But prolonged bradycardia, or bradycardia that is not treated, can become more serious.
Certain underlying conditions are typically the true decider of what a “dangerous” heart rate is. If you are already living with heart disease, heart failure, or a history of heart disease and notice a fluctuation in your heart rate, you should go to the doctor as soon as you can, as it could be a sign of a serious complication.
When is it an emergency?
If you suddenly notice a change in your heartbeat that is accompanied by:
It could be a sign of a serious heart complication, and you should get yourself to the doctor or the emergency room as soon as you can.
While there are a wide variety of wearable devices that can help you check your own heart rate, you can also do it manually.
The American Heart Association
- Find your pulse on the inside of your wrist
- Using the tips of your first two fingers, press lightly over the artery
- Count your pulse for 30 seconds, and then multiply that number by 2 to find your beats per minute
Note: Don’t rely on this method if you are feeling like your heart is beating too fast or too slow and you are uncomfortable. The best solution for this scenario is to get a doctor’s advice.
Tachycardia, which again is when your heart rate is faster than it should be, can be caused by underlying health conditions, such as:
- congenital heart disease
- heart disease that’s affecting blood flow
- injury to the heart, such as from a heart attack
- ventricular or supraventricular arrhythmias
Taking illegal drugs (such as stimulants, like cocaine or methamphetamines) or misusing both prescription and non-prescription medicines (like diet pills) may also cause your heart to beat too fast.
Other, less serious reasons for a fast heart rate include:
- drinking caffeine
- drinking alcohol
- heart physical exercise
You should visit your doctor if your heart rate is consistently above 100 beats per minute or below 60 beats per minute (and you’re not an athlete), and/or you are also experiencing:
- shortness of breath
- fainting spells
- light-headedness or dizziness
- feeling fluttering or palpitations in your chest
- having pain or discomfort in your chest
- exercise intolerance
Your doctor may use a variety of diagnostic tools to help diagnose your condition, including:
- Holter or event monitor. This is a smaller, portable EKG machine you wear for a set amount of time to help your doctor monitor your electrocardiographic signals.
- Electrocardiogram. Also referred to as an ECG or EKG, this diagnostic tool uses small electrodes to record the electrical activity of your heart. Your doctor can use the information collected to determine if heart abnormalities are contributing to your condition.
- Stress test. Sometimes called a treadmill test, this can help diagnose people whose symptoms may be exercise related.
- A tilt-table test. This measures how your blood pressure and heart rate respond when you go from lying down to standing up. People dealing with fainting spells are usually candidates.
- Imaging tests. Imaging can be used to assess if there are any structural abnormalities in your heart that may be contributing to your condition. Possible imaging tests can include echocardiogram, CT scan, and MRI scan.
- Electrophysiologic testing. Done under local anesthesia, this procedure involves temporary electrode catheters being threaded through veins or arteries into the heart to record the heart’s electrical signals.
Once a diagnosis is made, your doctor will work with you to develop a plan to treat and manage your condition.
Additionally, you should visit your doctor regularly for physicals. Not only is it good practice, but it can also help with early detection of things like high cholesterol or blood pressure abnormalities.
If you already have heart disease, you should carefully monitor your condition and stick to your treatment plan. Take all medications as instructed by your doctor. Be sure to promptly report any new or worsening symptoms.
Some additional preventative health tips to help keep your heart healthy and happy include:
- Find ways to reduce stress. Examples of ways to do this can include things like yoga or meditation.
- Limit your caffeine intake when possible. Using too much caffeine can lead to increases in heart rate.
- Limit your intake of energy drinks for the same reason.
Moderate your drinking. Women and men over 65 should only have one drink per day. Men under 65 should only have two drinks per day.
- Quit smoking. Smoking increases your heart rate, and quitting can help bring it back down.
- Think twice before using marijuana. Cannabis use
may cause cardiovascular complicationsfor some people.
- Be aware of medication side effects. Some medications can affect your heart rate. Always be aware of possible side effects before taking a medication.
- Prioritize sleep, and make sure you’re not dealing with sleep apnea, a common disease that can cause lapses in breathing while sleeping and can also affect heart rate.
Resting heart rate can vary from person to person and can be influenced by a variety of factors. A normal resting heart rate for an adult (who isn’t an athlete) is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. The normal heart rate for children changes as they age.
Both tachycardia (fast heart rate) and bradycardia (low heart rate) are typically indicators of other health conditions. If left untreated, they can lead to potentially serious health complications.
If you’re experiencing a heart rate that’s consistently too high or too low, you should make an appointment with your doctor, as there are a variety of reasons this could be occurring. While not all of these reasons are dangerous, some could be signs of heart trouble.