One of the easiest ways to check in on the state of your health is by measuring your heart rate--all you have to do is feel for your pulse on the side of your neck or the inside of your wrist and count the beats for one minute. (If you're short on time, count for 15 seconds and multiply by 4.)
Generally, a number between 60 and 100 is normal when the body is at rest. But a low or high heart rate can be affected by a number of things. "If you take your pulse regularly over the course of several weeks and you consistently get numbers outside of that window, it could signify a medical condition and you should see your doctor," says Jennifer Hubert, DO, an internal medicine physician at St. Joseph Health Medical Group in Santa Rosa. "But if your heart rate only goes outside the normal range every once in a while, other factors could be at play."
So what is your heart rate trying to tell you?
1. You're getting warmer. As the weather gets hotter, the heart kicks into overdrive, pumping blood to cool the skin and keep your body from overheating. "This can cause the heart rate to rise, but it should return to normal once the temperatures go down," Dr. Hubert says. "It's important to stay hydrated and wear lightweight clothing to keep the body cool."
2. You may need to exercise more. There is one instance where a low heart rate could be considered normal, and that's when you exercise intensely and regularly. "People who are physically active at a vigorous level generally have well-conditioned hearts that don't have to work that hard to pump blood, so their resting heart rate can go below the normal level," Dr. Hubert says. "If your resting heart rate is at the high end of normal or above normal, you'll want to talk with your doctor about starting an exercise program."
3. You deserve a break today. A sure way to get your heart rate shooting up: stress. "Once adrenaline hits the body as a way to cope with stress, it causes the heart rate to rise. But chronic stress, and the subsequent overworking of the heart, can lead to heart problems. Stress management techniques can help alleviate that," Dr. Hubert says.
4. Your thyroid gland may need a checkup. The hormones produced by the thyroid control many things, including the heart. Too many of these hormones (hyperthyroidism) and the heart rate goes up, while too few (hypothyroidism) and the heart rate may not be sufficient.
5. Your medication may be affecting your heart. "If you've been prescribed certain kinds of medications, such as beta blockers, these can affect your heart rate," Dr. Hubert says. "If you're on medication, ask your doctor if increased or lowered heart rate is a potential side effect; you may want to regularly monitor your heart rate in case the dosage needs to be adjusted."
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.