Person using digital monitor to check resting heart rate

How to Improve Resting Heart Rate (RHR)

Medically reviewed on Feb 25, 2024 by Jillian Foglesong Stabile, MD, FAAFP. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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Resting heart rate, or RHR, refers to the number of pumps (or heartbeats) your heart performs per minute when your body is in a state of rest. Your normal resting heart rate is best measured soon after waking—before you’ve engaged in any physical activities.

RHR is one of the first metrics healthcare providers use to evaluate a person’s general state of cardiovascular well-being. If your resting heart rate is lower or higher than average, it could indicate something amiss about the heart or cardiovascular system.

If you’re working on improving your resting heart rate, making lifestyle improvements in several domains can help support your cardiovascular well-being. Below, find out why RHR matters and several helpful tips for reaching your target heart rate.

What’s a Healthy Resting Heart Rate?

Healthy adults should generally maintain a resting heart rate of between 60 and 100 bpm (beats per minute). [1] (Athletes will frequently have a resting heart rate less than 60 and this is normal and healthy.)

This figure might change depending on some normal factors, like what position you’re in when you take your RHR (RHR tends to lower when you’re lying down). The weather can also change your heart rate, as extreme heat or cold can force the heart to work harder to maintain homeostasis. [1]

A person’s RHR can also fluctuate depending on [1]:

  • Their age – It’s normal (and healthy) for RHR to slow down as you get older. Make sure you review the normal resting heart rate by age and gender to better understand the range you fall in.
  • Their fitness level – People who exercise regularly tend to have a lower resting heart rate, as their bodies are more efficient at pumping blood. Sedentary lifestyles are associated with a high resting heart rate.
  • Their BMI – People with a larger body size tend to have lower RHRs than those with smaller ones. When your body size is bigger, your heart has to work harder to circulate blood. People with higher BMIs (like overweight or obese people) may also have vascular conditions that inhibit efficient blood flow, like hypertension or high blood pressure.
  • Their emotional state – Feelings and psychological states can dramatically affect RHR due to the activation of your autonomic nervous system. Anxiety, fear, and anger tend to raise RHR; states of ease, contentment, and tranquility tend to reduce it.
  • Tobacco or vape use – Use of nicotine through tobacco, e-cigarettes, or other products elevates a person’s RHR. This is because nicotine spurs your body to release adrenaline, a hormone that speeds up your heart rate.
  • Medications – If you’ve already been diagnosed with a heart condition or cardiovascular disease, you may be on medication for treatment. Common heart medications like beta-blockers work on the heart to lower RHR. Other medications, like decongestants used for allergies, may depress heart rate, yielding a lower RHR.
  • Medical conditions – Certain illnesses are associated with higher- or lower-than-average RHR. For instance, diabetes can significantly impact heart and vascular function, which may result in changes to RHR. Other issues like high cholesterol can also raise RHR.

Some people’s heart rate veers from average “healthy” benchmarks due to their lifestyle, without posing a danger to their health. For instance, athletes may exhibit a resting heart rate below 60 bpm—sometimes as low as 40 bpm. [1] This is because their athletic training has trained their hearts to pump blood more efficiently.

How to Take Your RHR

If you’re not sure of your resting heart rate, you can take it manually using your pulse [2]:

  • Apply two fingers to your neck, near your windpipe (carotid pulse). [2] You can also take your radial pulse using your wrist.
  • Once you’ve found your pulse, count how many times it beats in 15 seconds. Multiply that number by four to get your BPM. You may also count the number of beats in 30 seconds and multiply by two for greater accuracy.

People who closely monitor their hearts may find a digital or wearable heart rate monitor more efficient. [3] These technologies also enable you to monitor your heart rate during sleep. Many excellent heart rate monitors are available for purchase online for those who take their RHR frequently.

How to Improve Resting Heart Rate: Tips for Success

For most people, the most important factors in supporting heart rate and cardiovascular health are related to lifestyle. The following habits can help build a heart-healthy lifestyle and promote total well-being.

Exercise Regularly

Adopting an active lifestyle is elemental for achieving an optimal RHR and overall cardiovascular well-being. Aerobic exercise is especially beneficial for supporting heart health. [4] Types of aerobic exercise include [5]:

  • Walking, hiking, or jogging
  • Cycling
  • Swimming

Aerobic exercise is also very popular at gyms and fitness studios. For a fun way to improve your RHR, you can try taking a dance or barre class, or use a treadmill or elliptical machine while listening to your favorite playlist. [6]

Unless otherwise advised by your healthcare provider, it’s recommended that adults get at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week to level their risk of cardiovascular disease. [7] If you struggle to exercise each day, using this target benchmark weekly can help you achieve the movement you need for an optimal RHR.

Maintain a Healthy BMI

Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for cardiovascular well-being, so ask your healthcare provider if losing some weight could help ease your RHR. Though physical activity is part of the weight loss puzzle, adopting a healthy diet is the most instrumental factor in shedding and keeping off weight. [8]

Here are three basic strategies for your heart-healthy diet [9]:

1. Eat for Your BMR

BMR stands for basic metabolic rate. This is how much energy your body uses to maintain its current weight. Eating more calories than your BMR can lead to weight gain or counteract weight loss efforts. [9]

If you’re just starting a weight loss journey, consider working with a healthcare provider to find an appropriate “calorie window.” Knowing how much to eat can help you lose and maintain weight in a sustainable and healthy range.

2. Avoid Unhealthy Fats

Two types of fats are associated with high cholesterol and poor vascular health:

  • Saturated
  • Trans fats

These “unhealthy fats” can cause plaque to accumulate in your arteries, heightening your risk of coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD is significantly correlated with a high RHR, as well as cardiovascular illnesses like heart failure. [9]

When designing a heart-healthy diet, it’s best to avoid trans fats completely. Some saturated fats may be okay (ideally, they’ll form <6% of your daily intake). If you have a diagnosed heart condition, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider while building your eating plan.

3. Reduce Your Sodium (Salt) Intake

Diets that are high in salt are associated with heart disease and high blood pressure, which can elevate your RHR. It’s suggested that most adults keep their sodium intake below 2,300mg daily—approximately 1 teaspoon. [10]

If you have a diagnosed cardiovascular condition like hypertension or heart failure, it’s best to favor a low-sodium diet. Ask your healthcare provider if you’re unsure how much sodium you can safely have daily.

See related: Can Heart Failure Be Reversed?

Find Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress

If the measurable impact of emotions or RHR has anything to share, it’s the close connection between psychology and heart health. Anxiety is one of the most common triggers for heart rate spikes, and when stress is chronic, RHR can stay high.

With that, it’s important to find ways of managing stress so that you can regulate your nervous system. This could include:

  • Improving sleep hygiene – Obtaining high-quality sleep is vital for counteracting stress, as well as maintaining a healthy RHR. [11] You can enhance your sleep hygiene by embracing certain habits, like reducing your screen time or limiting alcohol and caffeine before bed. [12, 13]
  • Talking it out – Sometimes, managing stress and anxiety requires outside help. Working with a therapist equips many people with an outlet to talk through stressful life issues and the emotional support they need to handle them head-on.
  • Finding stress-relieving activities you enjoy – Activities that bring you joy can help conjure those feelings of relaxation and well-being associated with healthy, lowered RHR. Whether you pick up a new hobby or simply spend time with loved ones, building more leisure time into your week can help promote a sense of physical and emotional well-being.

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Limit or Avoid RHR Offenders

Healthcare providers refer to higher and lower-than-average RHRs in the following terms:

  • Tachycardia – An RHR that hovers above 100 bpm on average. People with tachycardia may also have arrhythmia. [14] This occurs when the heartbeat cadence becomes disrupted due to problems with the heart's electrical signaling. [15]
  • Bradycardia – An RHR that stays below 60 bpm on average. Shortness of breath, dizziness, and loss of consciousness are common in people with bradycardia. [16]

Tobacco, vaping, and caffeine are several common substances that can interfere with your RHR and general health. If you use them, consider quitting. Your heart—and the rest of your body—will return the favor with a lifetime of improved overall well-being.

Keep Your Heart Happy with Everlywell

You can keep a close eye on your cardiovascular health with the Everlywell At-Home Heart Health Test. With this at-home test, you can complement your RHR tracking by assessing your levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, and other biomarkers.

All Everlywell tests are processed by CLIA-certified labs, with results reviewed by independent physicians. If your test indicates a need for further treatment, Everlywell will connect you to a telehealthcare provider who can counsel you on next steps in care during a virtual care visit.

Start taking charge of your well-being with Everlywell today.

A Guide to Resting Heart Rate by Age and Gender

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  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How does sleep affect your heart health?. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. January 4, 2021. Medical Citation URL. Accessed January 19, 2024.
  12. Colrain, I. M., Nicholas, C. L., & Baker, F. C. Alcohol and the sleeping brain. Handbook of clinical neurology. 2014. Medical Citation URL. Accessed January 19, 2024.
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Jillian Foglesong Stabile, MD, FAAFP is a board-certified Family Physician. Since completing her residency training in 2010, she’s been practicing full-scope family medicine in a rural setting. Dr. Foglesong Stabile’s practice includes caring for patients of all ages for preventative care as well as chronic disease management. She also provides prenatal care and delivers babies. Dr. Foglesong Stabile completed a teaching fellowship in 2020 and teaches the family medicine clerkship for one of her local medical schools. Dr. Foglesong Stabile’s favorite thing about family medicine is the variety of patients she sees in her clinical practice.
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