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The Complete Guide to Heart Rate Recovery

Updated on:
May 18, 2022
Fitness
Author: 
Joel Runyon

I’m sure we have all experienced that sensation when it feels like your heart is beating so fast that it could burst out of your chest. After an especially vigorous workout, it may seem like your heart rate won’t ever come back down to normal levels. But did you know that that certain amount of time that it takes for your heart rate to return to its normal pace is actually an important metric? This amount of time is referred to as your heart rate recovery and is sometimes used by healthcare professionals to determine your body’s ability to recover from intense exercise. 

If you’re an athlete, heart rate recovery could be an important component for measuring the efficacy of your training regimen. Even if you don’t consider yourself an athlete, your heart rate recovery can give you valuable information about the health of your heart. 

If you have ever been curious about your own heart rate recovery, we’ve got you covered. This is your complete guide to heart rate recovery. We’ll cover what it is, how to calculate your own, the benefits of doing so, and how you can improve it. 

What is Heart Rate Recovery? 

Heart rate recovery is a term that is thrown around in gyms and personal training studios all across the world. But how is it truly defined? According to the Journal of the American Heart Association, “heart rate recovery (HRR) is commonly defined as the decrease of heart rate at 1 minute after cessation of exercise and is an important predictor of all‐cause mortality and death associated with coronary artery disease.” 

Without making it overly complicated, your recovery heart rate is the return back to baseline after exercising. Generally, the greater your physical fitness level, the faster your heart rate will return to normal post-workout. 

How to Calculate Your Heart Rate Recovery

A person checking the fitness tracker on their wrist

Calculating your heart rate recovery is actually quite simple. You can even do it without any special equipment - although there are certain fitness monitors that make this process even easier. 

If you are going to calculate your recovery heart rate manually, all you need is a watch or stopwatch to track your time. While exercising, you will feel for your pulse on the inside of your wrist using your fingers. Count the beats for 15 seconds. Once you have that number, multiply it by four. 

Keep the stopwatch running. Once one minute has elapsed, count the beats once again for 15 seconds and multiply that number by four once again. Once you have those two numbers, subtract the smaller from the bigger and that is your recovery heart rate. 

Of course, it could be difficult to assess your own heart rate manually while doing your workout – depending on what type of exercise you are doing. We recommend checking manually if you are doing something like weightlifting, power walking, or something similar. 

If you are doing a more intense workout, where you might not be able to check your pulse, we recommend buying a heart rate monitor. This could be something like an Apple watch, Fitbit, or Garmin. You will do the same steps as above, but you will just monitor what your tracker says instead of having to count. 

Generally, a greater heart rate recovery is thought to be indicative of greater physical fitness level. While this number can vary greatly, there have been some studies that reference what an “average” rate might be. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, a 15-20 beats per minute recovery heart rate after one minute of rest was considered about average for heart health. Heart rate recoveries faster than 15-20 beats per minute were considered to be “good” heart health. It should be noted that this study is quite old though - being published in 1999. 

More recently, a study completed in 2014 found that 15 beats per minute, again, was the average heart rate recovery. This study was looking at “a large population of physically active men.” 

It’s important to note that everybody - and every body - is different. While these averages can be helpful in giving you a marker, it might be better to work closely with your healthcare professional to determine what a realistic recovery heart rate might be for you. We also recommend that you take account of this value more than once. Heart rate recovery can vary day-to-day depending on a number of different factors. Multiple measurements over the course of a week or month could give you a better look at your actual recovery heart rate. 

What Affects Your Heart Rate Recovery?

Like we mentioned, there are a number of different factors that can affect your heart rate recovery. Knowing what affects this number can help you understand your own recovery heart rate in a greater sense. 

Many of the things recommended to improve your heart rate recovery are in line with things you would do to improve your overall health. In that regard, doing these practices consistently is like killing two birds with one stone. Just like many other things in life, it truly is all connected. That being said, it’s important that these things are done on a consistent basis to have the greatest impact. 

Your nutrition can most definitely impact your heart rate recovery. It is important to eat a well-balanced diet rich in whole foods and a variety of different nutrients. Along those same lines, proper hydration is important for heart rate recovery as well and dehydration can negatively impact your heart rate recovery. 

Sleep is another important part of the puzzle. Doing everything you can do to get the highest quality sleep possible will greatly benefit your health and your recovery heart rate. Most experts recommend getting more than seven hours of sleep per night. Using things such as blackout curtains, a sleep mask, or a white noise machine can also improve the quality of sleep you receive. 

Taking note of your caffeine consumption is important when examining your heart rate recovery as well. There was a study that found that caffeine intake can negatively impact heart rate and recovery after exercise. The study stated that “In conclusion, based on our findings, caffeine ingestion prior to moderate aerobic exercise delays recovery of the parasympathetic component of autonomic heart rate control, as well as the recovery of [blood pressure] at baseline levels in young male participants.” If you have caffeinated before your workout, that caffeine might negatively impact your heart rate recovery. That’s not to say that you should never drink coffee or your favorite energy drink again, but you may notice a difference between your heart rate recovery depending on whether or not you have consumed caffeine. 

It’s also worth noting that alcohol, of course, can negatively impact this value as well. Avoiding alcohol completely, limiting it, or choosing a higher-quality option would be highly recommended if you want to improve your overall health as well as your recovery heart rate. 

Improving Your Heart Rate Recovery

A woman running along a path in the park

We would be remiss if we did not explore how to improve your heart rate recovery in this guide. Of course, with the information provided above, you now understand certain factors that may impact your recovery value. But what about if you want to strategically improve it? 

The answer is increasing your physical activity. As simple as it sounds, we know that this can be a challenge for many people. With so many resources online, it can feel overwhelming to start a new exercise routine.

If you are looking for a specific program to follow, we recommend any of the ones available from Impossible Fitness. Following a program can be helpful because it takes the stress off of you to figure out exactly what you need to do to achieve your goals. This is the same for hiring a coach or trainer. If you know you would benefit from the extra guidance and accountability, investing in a professional to help you could be worth it. 

But, sometimes, you don’t even need to go to those lengths to see improved results with your heart rate recovery. Simply adding in movement throughout your day when possible can have an impact.

These could include activities like: 

  • Walking for 20 minutes after dinner 
  • Taking the stairs when possible 
  • Cleaning the house or doing yard work 
  • Dancing while cooking 
  • Trying a fun new group fitness class 
  • Taking your dog on an extra walk 

If you are just starting out with your fitness exploration and looking to improve your heart rate recovery, we recommend starting simple first and then building in complexity once you have the foundations covered. Aim for walking at least 7,000 steps a day. Do your best to eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet and drink at least 64 ounces of water a day. Avoid alcohol when possible. Manage your stress levels to the best of your ability and prioritize sleep if possible. 

Once you have mastered these simple (but not always easy) things, we then recommend ramping up your workouts. 

Conclusion

Heart rate recovery can be a helpful metric to “measure” your  fitness level and overall heart health. This can be done manually by feeling your pulse or with a heart rate tracker. Remember, we recommend measuring your heart rate recovery over a span of time (a week or two) and taking an average of the values because the value can fluctuate day-today depending on many different factors.

To improve your heart rate recovery, you can do many of the same things you would do to improve your overall health such as staying active, eating healthy, hydrating, and prioritizing sleep. 

Joel Runyon

Joel is the founder of IMPOSSIBLE and the founder of MoveWell. Joel founded MoveWell after sustaining an injury while running an ultra marathon on every continent. Joel is writes about mobility, pain management and health and wellness overall.

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