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There is somewhat conflicting information on what the "normal" resting heart rate should be. Some sites cite rates between 60 and 100 as being normal, with rates below 60 being defined as bradycardia, i.e. a "condition". However, most sites also mention that it's normal for athletic people to have heart rates as low as 40, and that people should try to keep it below 70:

Myth: A normal heart rate is 60-100 beats per minute?

That's the old standard. Many doctors think it should be lower. About 50-70 beats per minute is ideal, says Suzanne Steinbaum, MD, director of women's heart health at Lenox Hill Hospital.

Recent studies suggest a heart rate higher than 76 beats per minute when you're resting may be linked to a higher risk of heart attack.

This is rather conflicting, since 76 is at around 40% of the 60-100 range, implying it even gravitates to the "fitter" range? Is the "new standard" correct?

Furthermore, regarding RHR calculation, my fitness tracker calculates the RHR as the first heart rate after waking up, while still lying in bed (it tends to be slightly below 60 on average). But this is really my lowest rate during the day (sleeping excluded), and while sitting at my desk during the day (I am a programmer), it will stick around 70 bpm - I am obviously not as fit as I would want to be. Is the in-bed resting heart rate really the "correct" indicator of fitness?

  • You have to understand that "normal" in medical parlance doesn't necessarily mean what you might think it means. In this context "normal" simply means there is nothing immediately alarming or pathological about it. It doesn't mean it's necessarily a healthy rate. – Carey Gregory Aug 5 '16 at 22:30
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First thing in the morning before getting up is usually considered the gold standard for RHR and will produce your lowest reading during waking hours. That said, when you are at the doctor's office and they take your HR you'll likely read a bit higher, much like you would sitting at your desk.

Traditional ideal RHR ranges i.e. ones that tend higher assume the reading at your desk/doctor's office. The "new standard" takes into account people who use their Fitbit/smartphone app/whatnot wizmo gadget first thing in the morning before hopping out of bed and thus suggests a lower ideal.

I would not consider an RHR in the low to mid 40's a condition in highly trained individuals; even following entry level endurance training regiments non-smoking, healthy-eating types can easily dip into the low 50's, in my experience.

A RHR at or close to 100 definitely approaches risky territory for the average person but other risk factors (smoking, obesity, etc.) would likely present before RHR approaches those levels. When present in combination with these activities, therefore, such a high RHR would be considered "normal" but your doctor would tell you to quit smoking, eat healthier, and get more exercise rather than to bring your RHR down.

  • Thanks, it makes sense that 60-100 would be considered the "average" range during the day (sitting, doing desktop job, etc), but not really first thing in the morning. I also reduced my RHR to a weakly average of ~60, and even sometimes get morning RHRs of ~55 (especially when well rested). That's after several months of rather light training (some weightlifting, 20 min cardio sessions now and then), healthy eating, reducing my body weight and trying to be more active during the day in general. That's why the whole "bradycardia below 60" idea didn't make much sense. – Lou Aug 2 '16 at 13:23
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    Just to add to this answer. Readings at the doctor's office are rarely accurate. A lot of people get nervous because they're at the doctor's office. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_coat_hypertension – akadian Aug 2 '16 at 13:30
  • I actually get White Coat Hypertension but it's important to note that Heart Rate and Blood Pressure are very different things. – Tehninjo0 Aug 2 '16 at 13:54
  • +1 @akadian and the reading is never really accurate because most of the time doctors measure just 10 seconds and then extrapolate. – Boris Aug 3 '16 at 8:52
  • @Boris - Anyone trained in properly measuring a pulse most certainly can get an accurate reading in 10-15 seconds (15 seconds is the standard) so long as the rhythm is fairly regular. A 15-second sample of a normal, regular heart beat taken by someone with proper training will produce the same number as an ECG or a person taking a full 60-second sample. – Carey Gregory Aug 5 '16 at 22:27
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You must consider here why you want to measure your resting heart rate. While one may argue whether you should measure it in the morning while you are still in bed or after you have eaten breakfast, but what matters in practice is what will give the best results when monitoring your fitness, particularly to monitor for possible overtraining.

So, what you want to do is measure your heart rate when you are rest under conditions that give the most consistent results. For some people this is when they are lying down in bed just after they've woken. But some people need to get up first, go to the toilet before they get consistent results.

E.g. I tend to have a slightly elevated heart rate in the morning and it fluctuates more compared to when I measure it just before exercise time. In my case this is caused by my 4000 Kcal diet, in the morning there is still 2000 Kcal worth of digested food that needs to come out, the pressure in the intestines can slightly influence the heart rate.

My resting heart rate is typically a bit below 40 bpm, but after 3 days of fast one hour running sessions it can be a bit elevated. Should it be systematically elevated even after a pause of a few days, e.g. if I were to measure 45 bpm, then I need to consider if I've been exercising too hard, or if something else is wrong. I can then pay closer attention to heart rate during exercise and how the exercise session feels like do some more measurements of heart rate during exercise and how fast it goes down afterward.

The fact that my general fitness is good makes such measurement reliable, because my heart rate relaxes to its resting value very fast. If I run up some stairs very fast and sit down then the heart rate goes down to the resting value within about 20 seconds. It will in fact undershoot it and then climb upwards (it can e.g. go down to 34 bpm and then climb to 38 bpm).

Other heart rate measurements that are useful to do are measurements during exercise and after exercise to monitor how fast you are recuperating. Also measurements immediately after fixed short duration exertions will give useful information if the resting heart rate is elevated due to some problem. E.g. I know that my heart rate immediately after doing 40 push-ups is typically around 85 bpm. Should I have a lot of stress then the resting heart rate could be elevated to perhaps 44 bpm instead if 38 bpm, but the heart rate after doing the 40 push-ups should then still be about 85 bpm. If however, this has also increased a lot, say to 100 bpm, then I would assume that there is a problem like e.g. overtraining.

  • Thanks! It's just that my wrist HRM gives rather strange results for my RHR, presumably because I tend to snooze a bit after my first alarm. :) I don't see how the clock diffeentiates between lying in bed, awaken, and still sleeping. So the clock will say my RHR is, say, 52, although it will hardly go below 60 during the day (while sitting, for example). So according to the 60-100 rule combined with watch readings, I should be quite fit, although I am far from that (e.g. the clock measured my VO2 max at 44, for a 35 yo male). – Lou Sep 23 '16 at 9:58

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