When you exercise, your heart rate increases proportionally to meet your level of exertion. Your heart rate will generally level off and return to resting levels within the first few minutes following the cessation of exercise, but in some cases, your heart rate will remain elevated for hours after a workout. Although this isn't always a serious issue, it can be a dangerous sign.
Heart Rate Recovery
Immediately following a workout, your heart rate will begin to return to its resting level within a few minutes. The more fit you are, the quicker your heart rate should return to a safe, relaxed level. The resting heart rate for the average person is between 60 and 80 beats per minute, according to the American Heart Association.
Elevated Heart Rate
If you're new to an exercise routine or if you're not in great shape, it may take longer for your heart rate to return to base following a workout. If it doesn't, you may be suffering from overtraining syndrome. If you've been working out intensely on consecutive days, muscle damage will accumulate and you won't have time to heal properly. Heart rate increases faster and remains elevated longer among overtrained athletes.
Although a poor heart-rate recovery time often signals overtraining, it can be a sign of serious underlying heart issues. Using advanced stress tests to measure cardiac output following exercise, the Cleveland Clinic found that abnormal or elevated heart rates during the recovery period signaled trouble ahead. In a 2003 follow-up study five years after the original tests, researchers found an increased mortality rate among subjects with abnormal heart-rate recovery patterns.
A 1999 study published in the "New England Journal of Medicine" found that subjects with slower heart-rate recovery times had a higher risk of death than those with normal recovery times. According to the researchers, a heart rate recovery of 12 beats per minute or less was considered a serious risk factor. Measure your resting heart rate following a workout by taking your pulse on the inside of your wrist for six seconds and multiplying that number by 10. If your heart rate is elevated for hours after a workout, your doctor may want to treat dangerous heart conditions such as high blood pressure and cholesterol more aggressively.
- American Heart Association: Target Heart Rates
- American Council on Exercise: Top 10 Signs You're Overtraining
- Harvard Medical School: Stress tests for the heart: What Happens After Exercise Just as Important as What Happens During
- The New England Journal of Medicine: Heart-Rate Recovery Immediately After Exercise as a Predictor of Mortality
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