How to Improve Your Heart Rate Recovery Times and Why
Heart rate recovery indicates the rate at which your heart rate decreases after physical activity. The faster your heart rate goes down, the better your heart is at recovery from cardio exercise. Your heart rate recovery also points to your overall health and factors into your risk for disease.
What Is Heart Rate Recovery?
Heart rate recovery is a measure in beats per minute (bpm) of how quickly your heart rate returns to its resting level post-exercise. It's calculated one minute after you stop to rest from exercising with your heart rate at 70% of its maximum.
Is Heart Rate Recovery the Same Thing as Cardio Recovery?
No. Heart rate recovery specifically focuses on how quickly your heart rate returns to its resting level, while cardio recovery encompasses the broader process of overall physiological recovery after cardiovascular exercise. For example, the restoration of oxygen and energy reserves, removal of waste products (like lactic acid), and repair of muscle tissue.
Why Heart Rate Recovery Matters
Heart rate recovery is often used as an indicator of cardiovascular fitness and autonomic nervous system (ANS) function. Your ANS regulates your heart rate and your body's "fight or flight" response to stress. The health of your ANS is linked to your cardiovascular health in the sense that the healthier your heart is, the better you can recover from physical stress.
Your heart rate recovery is also an indicator of your heart health and potential risk for cardiovascular disease. A meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Heart Association that looked at the results of 9 different studies concluded there's a clear link between heart rate recovery and risk of cardiovascular events, as well as all-cause mortality.
How to Calculate Your Heart Rate Recovery
Here's how you calculate heart rate recovery step by step:
1. Choose an aerobic exercise activity like running on a treadmill or cycling on a stationary bike. It should be an activity where you can easily track your heart rate with a monitor.
2. Measure your heart rate as you warm up and get to moderate intensity. Then increase your intensity so that you reach 70% of your maximum heart rate. If you don't know your maximum heart rate, you can go with your age-predicted maximum heart rate — calculated by subtracting your age from 220 bpm.
3. As soon as you reach 70% of your maximum heart rate, stop and rest for one minute. At the one minute mark, write down your heart rate.
4. Subtract your heart rate after one minute from 70% of your maximum heart rate to get your heart rate recovery.
For example, if 70% of your maximum heart rate is 140 bpm and your heart rate after one minute of rest is 125 bpm, your heart rate recovery is 15 bpm.
What Is a Good Heart Rate Recovery?
In a study on 274 elite male athletes, the average heart rate recovery was 26 bpm. Meanwhile, a study on older adults found that 17 bpm was the average, and higher than 23 bpm was in the 75th percentile.
Factors that Affect Your Heart Rate Recovery
Here are the key factors that influence your heart rate recovery:
More physically fit individuals tend to have faster heart rate recovery times. Regular exercise improves the efficiency of the cardiovascular system, allowing the heart to pump more blood with fewer beats.
Heart rate recovery tends to be slower as you age. Older individuals may take longer to return to their resting heart rate after exercise compared to younger individuals.
Proper hydration is crucial for maintaining normal cardiovascular function. When you're dehydrated, your blood volume decreases, which raises your heart rate during exercise and slows your heart rate recovery. Dehydration also impairs your body's ability to regulate body temperature, which can further strain the cardiovascular system.
A heart-healthy diet emphasizes whole foods, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids. On the other hand, a diet high in processed foods, sugar, and saturated fats is very taxing on your heart and can affect your heart rate recovery. High sodium intake can lead to fluid retention and increased blood pressure, both of which can affect heart rate and cardiovascular health. Hence, excessive sodium consumption may hinder heart rate recovery after exercise.
Sufficient sleep is essential for overall health, including cardiovascular health. Acute sleep deprivation reduces exercise capacity and lowers heart rate recovery, according to a study on 30 healthy individuals. Moreover, if you're still fatigued from your previous exercise and haven't allowed your muscles and nervous system to rest sufficiently, your heart rate recovery could be lower than usual.
Caffeine does increase your heart rate, which could slow your heart rate recovery. Caffeine consumption close before your workout will especially affect heart rate recovery by making it harder to recover.
How to Improve Your Heart Rate Recovery
Here are some strategies to help improve your heart rate recovery:
Low Heart Rate Training
Low heart rate training is a type of cardiovascular fitness training where you intentionally keep your heart rate below your target heart rate during aerobic exercise. In this aerobic zone, your body relies primarily on oxygen to generate energy. Low heart rate training makes your heart more efficient in its delivery of oxygen, which can also improve your heart rate recovery and overall cardio health.
To stay properly hydrated, drink about 17 to 20 ounces of water within two hours before exercise. Drink water or a sports drink during your workout when you feel thirsty or start to sweat. Of course, follow your workout with plenty of replacement fluids.
Get Enough Rest
Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night, as sleep deprivation can drastically reduce your heart rate recovery. Also, allow 48 hours of recovery before you work the same muscle again or more time if the muscle is still sore.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Excess weight puts strain on your heart, making it work harder. To help improve your heart rate recovery, follow a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and set milestone goals for achieving weight loss if you're overweight.