Including how to find your resting heart rate, if it's healthy, and how yours compares to the average.

By Lauren Mazzo
Photo: Fitbit

You know your heart rate skyrockets during burpees or when a "we need to talk" text pops up on your phone (and if you're serious about fitness, you may even train according to your heart rate).

But how often do you pay attention to your resting heart rate (RHR), which is your heart rate when you're 100 percent chill? Here's what you need to know about this very important (hopefully) little number.

Healthy Resting Heart Rate 101

Here's a little refresher: Your resting heart rate is a measurement of how many times your heart beats per minute when you're completely at rest. (Think: When you've first woken up in the morning before getting out of bed.) It's an important number because it's a great indicator of your overall health and fitness, namely your cardiovascular health. And, unlike your score in OrangeTheory, a lower number is better.

Essentially, the lower your resting heart rate, the more efficiently your heart is working, says Scott McLean, Ph.D., principal research scientist at Fitbit, the fitness wearables company. "You have to pump a certain amount of blood around the body per minute," says McLean. "If your heart is larger, stronger, and the arteries are clear and working well, you'll pump more blood to the body during each beat, which means that, per minute, you'll need fewer beats to make that happen," he says.

A normal resting heart rate is anywhere between 60 and 100 bpm for most people, according to the American Heart Association. However, a lower RHR generally implies better health; well-trained athletes may even have resting heart rates as low as 40 bpm, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The Average Resting Heart Rate in the U.S.

Bad news: Research from Fitbit shows that the average resting heart rate in the United States does not bode well for the country's overall health. The wearables company tapped into their giant user database of more than 108 billion hours of heart-rate data to analyze resting heart rates around the world. Of the 15 different countries the company reviewed, the U.S. and Singapore had the highest resting heart rates, at 65.9 beats per minute (bpm), while Italy had the lowest, at 61.8 bpm.

"If you think about it, the U.S. also seems to be ranked highly for a lot of the variables that negatively affect resting heart rate: overall stress, work-related stress, obesity, poor diet, inactivity, etc.," says McLean.

The few points between the U.S.'s (65.9) and Italy's (61.8) scores may not seem like a huge difference, but those few bpms are significant over a lifetime: "We pulled from so much data that even though the difference seems small, it's actually statistically significant and it can also be clinically significant," says McLean. That means the difference is important for both research and IRL health concerns. "Even a 3 or 4 bpm difference in resting heart rate can have a huge impact over time on someone's general health, well-being, and morbidity." In fact, resting heart rate has been linked directly to your risk of death. Paying attention now?

Why You Have a High Resting Heart Rate-and How to Lower It

The biggest culprits that increase your resting heart rate: Lack of sleep, tobacco use, being overweight or obese, dehydration, and stress, says McLean.

The easiest way to improve (i.e., lower) your resting heart rate is to literally get your blood pumping. Your heart is a muscle, and if you want to get it in good shape, you have to work it out. (Yes, that means doing cardio-even if it isn't necessary for weight loss or for your specific fitness goals.)

You don't have to go crazy, though: McLean says you can see significant improvements in your RHR just by increasing your overall activity levels each day-no marathon training necessary. However, you may want to give HIIT workouts a try: A study published in the Journal of Human Hypertension found that 55-year-old adults who did just one hour per week of high-intensity aerobic training (about 66 percent of maximum effort) lowered their resting heart rate more efficiently than they did through low-intensity effort (33 percent of max effort).

Fitbit's research yielded other interesting results, too. Resting heart rates gradually increased with age up until the 40 to 49 age group (which had the highest RHR for both sexes), then started to decline again. Because Fitbit's huge selection of RHR data is the first of its kind, this finding is pretty novel. Researchers aren't entirely sure why your RHR goes down after peaking sometime in your 40s, although McLean says it may have to do with age-related changes in heart mechanics.

The health tech company also noticed that female users had a higher average RHR overall than male users by 3 bpm. Before you panic, listen up: This doesn't have any health indications, but rather is a result of anatomical differences in heart size and hormone levels. (Really, don't worry: Women consistently live longer than men.)

How to Measure Your Resting Heart Rate

The best way to get your RHR is to wear a heart-rate monitor (like a Fitbit or other activity tracker) while you sleep. No device? To measure it yourself:

  1. Find your pulse on your wrist first thing in the morning (without an alarm clock or other stimulation or distractions).
  2. Count the number of beats in 30 seconds.
  3. Multiply that number by two.

Consider making note of your RHR on two or three different mornings and averaging your results, says Cary Raffle, a certified personal trainer and exercise science pro in NYC, as we reported in How to Find (and Train In) Your Personal Heart-Rate Zones. This can ensure you didn't just record a number on a particularly stressful day or after a rough night's sleep.

Keep an eye on your RHR over time to know what's normal and abnormal for you, said Harley Pasternak, celebrity trainer and Fitbit ambassador, in a press release about the Fitbit study. That way, you can monitor how your health is changing, and know if you're ever in a situation where you need to seek advice from your doc.

Comments (4)

January 13, 2019
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February 17, 2018
This is a questionable "finding", and, the conclusions drawn in the article even worse. What are the market or cultural differences between Italy and the US? Anyone who's travelled, and especially lived in more than one country, knows that one size does not fit all! For example, are the Italians buying Fitbits inclined to be active? Are the Americans buying Fitbits aspirational, hoping to lose weight? Or, are the younger Italians buying Fitbits while in America it's an older demographic? This "news" tells you more about Fitbit than about the relative health of Italians and Americans. Fitbit's sales have apparently been tanking. MUCH cheaper competitors are coming along and are eating Fitbit's lunch on the cheap end and Apple is eating Fitbit's premium users. Fitbit hasn't managed to convert its users into subscription customers. It's looking for publicity and by releasing such "findings" it's able to generate that publicity. Regarding Fitbit accuracy, I recently acquired a used Fitbit Charge HR for $30 and have found the heart rate to be within a beat or two of that measured using my fingers or my Galaxy's in-built heart rate monitor. Why would you need extreme precision other than for one's personal gratification? I'm about to get a Xiaomi Mi Band 2 as well so I'll compare the two devices head-to-head. From everything I've read the Band 2 is a perfectly functional tracker at a fraction ($30 vs. $130) of the price of a comparable Fitbit Charge 2 (newer, but also much more expensive than the Charge HR). Supposedly the software for the Fitbit is better than that of the competitors, but, to be honest, after having used it for a few days I'm UNDERWHELMED. It's nothing special. The only thing I will grant it is that it's pretty good on battery if you remember to turn off BlueTooth and disable all the auto-sync functions. I'm also leery of Fitbit's corporate culture and can't imagine myself buying any newer products from them (at full price ;). They intentionally decided to cripple the Charge HR so that people would buy the Charge 2 by denying Charge HR users SMS notification (doesn't affect me because I value my phone's battery life too much to turn on BlueTooth). Strangely enough the Charge HR can notify you of incoming phone calls. If it can do incoming phone calls, there's absolutely no reason it couldn't do SMS! Plus, apparently there were third party apps that could at one point notify Charge HR users of SMS but Fitbit disabled those apps in a firmware update. Or, they restricted their advanced heart rate sleep tracking to Charge 2 despite the fact that the Charge HR has heart rate tracking (granted, I could see that there might be technical differences in how the heart rate tracking was implemented in the Charge HR vs Charge 2, but, chances are it was just an arbitrary decision to bolster the short-term bottom line at the expense of customer loyalty). Those two actions alone tell you a lot about the culture of a company. To Fitbit the customer experience is secondary to making profit. Yes, they likely drove a handful of sales of newer devices by denying sleep tracking and notifications to a device that could handle it, but, I imagine they also alienated a lot of earlier customers who otherwise might have acted as ambassadors for their brand.
February 16, 2018
I’ve been using a Fitbit Blaze for over a year and its heart rate measurements consistently match the rate captured by my pulse oximeter. Great product!
February 15, 2018
Fit bit is terribly off when monitoring heart rates. Samsung Gear S3 Frontier is the most accurate. If fitbit were as accurate I'm sure the average resting heart rates would be much different thag what their database revealed. My resting heart rate as a active 30 year old male is the low 50s and sometiemes dips as low as 46. Fitbit isn't really that great of a product. I used to own one and took it back several days later due to inaccurate numbers.