Heart rate recovery measures how quickly your heart returns to its normal resting rate after exercise. Some medical and fitness professionals use this measurement to assess the heart’s ability to recover from intense exercise.
This article covers why heart rate recovery is important, how to test it, and tips for improving your recovery heart rate.
What Is Heart Rate Recovery?
If you’ve taken a fitness class or personal training session, you may have heard people mention your heart rate recovery. Heart rate recovery is different from your target heart rate (a heart rate you aim to raise yours to during exercise) or normal resting heart rate (your heart rate when you have not been doing any activity).
Your recovery heart rate measures the change in your heart rate for the first few minutes after exercise. Typically, it’s measured within the first one to three minutes after exercise. Some people refer to heart rate recovery as your postexercise heart rate.
In general, the better your physical fitness level, the quicker your heart will recover after exercise.
Why Heart Rate Recovery Matters
Heart rate recovery is important because it can be used to understand how the heart recovers after stress. Exercise intentionally and safely adds stress to the body. The stress from exercise helps you maintain healthy muscles and lungs, as well as cardiovascular (the heart and blood vessels) health.
If your heart doesn’t recover well after exercising, it could be a sign of a poor fitness level and even potential health problems.
A 2017 study found that a slower decrease in heart rate after exercise increased the risk of health problems like:
Because of its importance to fitness level and cardiovascular health, many healthcare professionals use heart rate recovery to predict disease risk and risk of death from heart disease.
How to Test Your Recovery Heart Rate
Your heart rate recovery is simply a measure of how your heart rate changes after exercise. You can manually check your heart rate by feeling for your pulse on your wrist, counting for 15 seconds, and multiplying the number by 4. Then after one minute, repeat the test.
The drawback to manually tracking your heart rate is the challenge of assessing your higher heart rate while exercising. Once you stop exercising, your heart rate will begin to slow.
Another option is to use a tracker or monitor. The rise in popularity of fitness trackers and watches that track heart rate makes it easy to test your recovery heart rate. These devices record your heart rate during your workout and make it easier to measure how your heart rate slows after your workout ends.
Your heart rate recovery is the difference between your heart rate at the end of your workout and one minute after. So, if you end your workout with a heart rate of 130 beats per minute and after one minute of rest your heart rate is at 110 beats per minute, your recovering heart rate is 20 beats per minute.
A heart rate recovery between 12 and 23 beats per minute is considered healthy.
Factors That Affect Your Recovery Heart Rate
More than just your overall fitness level impacts your heart rate recovery. So, to track change in your heart rate recovery, it’s important to understand how these factors affect it.
Drinking enough water is essential for healthy body function. Research shows that dehydration may lead to changes in heart function and increases heart rate when dehydrated. A lack of water can also slow heart rate recovery after exercise.
Caffeine stimulates the nervous system, which can slow the body’s ability to recover after workouts. A 2017 study found caffeine intake negatively affects heart rate and blood pressure recovery after exercise.
Fatigue and lack of sleep impact multiple parts of the body, including your heart. Research suggests fatigue impacts peak heart rate and heart rate recovery after exercise.
How to Improve Your Heart Rate Recovery
Now that you understand heart rate recovery, you may be wondering how to improve it. First, make sure you consider the other factors that may impact your heart rate recovery, like not getting enough sleep, caffeine intake, and dehydration.
When tracking changes in your heart rate recovery, these factors could change how accurate the numbers are. The most important factor for improving your recovering heart rate is physical activity.
If you feel overwhelmed by the thought of exercising more and increasing your activity, know that it doesn’t have to be a big change. Even small changes in exercise will help your fitness levels. The focus should be on starting where you are instead of thinking it needs to be an unrealistic goal.
If you’re currently sedentary, start by adding one or two short walks daily. Then slowly increase your time spent moving. Even activities like vacuuming, sweeping, or cutting grass with a push mower count as part of your daily activity.
Here are some other tips to increase your physical activity and fitness levels:
- Take the stairs.
- Park farther away from the door.
- Increase workouts slowly.
- Sign up for group fitness classes.
- Hire a personal trainer.
- Meet a friend for a walk.
- Garden or do yard work.
- Clean the house.
- Test different types of workouts.
Contact your healthcare provider if you have any concerns about your heart rate during and after exercise.
Heart rate recovery measures how quickly your heart rate returns to a resting rate. You can use your recovery heart rate to assess your fitness level and overall cardiovascular health.
You can test your heart rate recovery manually or use a monitor to measure how it changes. For example, your heart rate drops by 15 beats per minute after one minute of rest, your recovery rate is 15. Your fitness level is the most important factor for your heart rate recovery, but it’s also affected by fatigue, caffeine intake, and water intake.
A Word From Verywell
Maintaining a healthy heart is important for preventing disease and maintaining your well-being as you age. Staying active and increasing how often you move throughout the day helps improve your recovery after workouts. If you have any questions or concerns about your heart rate recovery, talk with your healthcare professional.