Frequency of Heart Rate at Rest in Athletes According to Age and Gender

Index

Resting Heart Rate: What is “Normal”?

Resting heart rate is an easily measurable clinical parameter that indicates the activity of the heart pumping blood when we are not exercising or moving, that is, when we are relaxed. It usually ranges between 60 and 90 – 100 beats per minute, and can vary throughout the day, decreasing at night (Bonnemeier et al., 2003). Various studies, as well as expert consensus, indicate that normal resting heart rate values in adults are between 60 and 90 beats per minute (Kannel et al., 1987), and other associations such as the American Heart Association (AHA) define normal resting heart rate as between 60 and 100 beats per minute (Mason et al., 2007).

Clinically, resting heart rate is strongly associated with cardiovascular diseases and other causes of mortality (Nanchen, Leening, et al., 2013; Seviiri et al., 2018). Data below this range may be found in well-conditioned athletes with more efficient cardiac function. When the heart rate drops below 60 beats per minute, it is called bradycardia, which, if due to good physical fitness, is not concerning. However, if accompanied by dizziness or fatigue, it is advisable to consult a doctor. If the resting heart rate exceeds 100 beats per minute, it is not considered “normal,” indicating tachycardia.

Resting Heart Rate Below Normal

Resting heart rate can drop below 40 beats per minute in individuals who are in very good physical condition. However, there is a significant genetic component that determines these values, explaining differences between men and women (Eppinga et al., 2016). A resting heart rate that is too low could cause dizziness, lightheadedness, fatigue, or even fainting. If you are an athlete in good physical shape, have resting heart rate values below 60 beats per minute, and do not experience any symptoms such as dizziness or those mentioned earlier, there is generally no cause for concern.

Resting Heart Rate Above Normal

One of the major studies on resting heart rate and health was conducted by Seviiri and colleagues (Seviiri et al., 2018). Using data from 40,000 men and women in Melbourne, they compared variations in resting heart rate over a 20-year period to assess its association with various cardiovascular disorders, cancer, and other non-cardiovascular causes of mortality. The authors demonstrated that a 10-beat-per-minute increase in resting heart rate increased the risk of cardiovascular disease by 11%, cancer by 8%, and other causes of mortality by 20%.

The higher the increase in resting heart rate during these years of follow-up, the greater the risk of diseases and mortality. In a very general sense, they proposed 60 beats per minute as a threshold above which clinical complications begin to rise. A study published in Heart defines resting heart rate as “normal” if it is below 70 beats per minute in men and 80 beats per minute in women (Nanchen, 2018). Resting heart rate above 100 beats per minute is considered tachycardia, requiring medical attention as it could be due to abnormal hormonal levels, an overactive thyroid, anemia, or other health issues, such as an abnormal heart rhythm.

General Table of Resting Heart Rate for Adults, With No Age or Gender Distinction

Despite its ease of measurement and clinical information, there is no precise consensus on recommendations for resting heart rate in adults. Some of the reasons for the complexity of creating a general resting heart rate table include factors that can alter this measurement, such as alcohol, caffeine, or ingested sodium, as well as other factors like the activation of the sympathetic nervous system or inflammatory processes (Nanchen, Stott, et al., 2013).

Resting heart rate is highly susceptible to modification, including by air temperature, body position, emotions, and even the mere presence of someone in a white coat measuring heartbeats (Avram et al., 2019). In addition to all this, there are measurement errors in resting heart rate with field techniques such as manual palpation or blood pressure monitors.

In any case, with all the above data, standard values for heart rate reserve (HRR) can be established for the general population (Table 1). As mentioned earlier, these values are merely indicative as they can be altered by many factors. Special populations such as athletes, older adults, and children are excluded from these values. Ideally, resting heart rate should be in the low range (between 60 and 80 beats per minute), as resting heart rate is associated with life expectancy; the higher the number of beats per minute at rest, the lower the life expectancy (Reimers et al., 2018).

Table elaborated by Joaquín Vico Plaza, Vitruve editor, based on current scientific literature. HRR: heart rate reserve; bpm: beats per minute

What Should Be My Resting Heart Rate According to My Age? Resting Heart Rate Table For Men (Age & Fitness Level)

In the previous section, we saw that there is a wide range that places a “normal” resting heart rate between about 60 and 100 beats per minute. If we want to be more specific, we can establish a number of beats per minute, always indicative, based on gender, age, and fitness level. The following resting heart rate table relates the age and fitness level of men to their number of beats per minute measured at rest (Table 2). The data has been extracted from statistical reports from the National Institutes of Health of the United States (Ostchega et al., 2011).

Table elaborated by Joaquín Vico Plaza, Vitruve editor, based on current statistical reports (Ostchega et al., 2011). HRR: heart rate reserve; bpm: beats per minute

Resting Heart Rate Table For Women (Age & Fitness Level)

Women tend to show higher levels of resting heart rate, with several more beats per minute at each age and fitness level. Women tend to have smaller hearts and lower blood volume and hemoglobin, meaning the heart needs to beat more frequently to nourish the body’s tissues. The following resting heart rate table relates the age and fitness level of women to their number of beats per minute measured at rest (Table 3). The data has been extracted from statistical reports from the National Institutes of Health of the United States (Ostchega et al., 2011).

Table prepared by Joaquín Vico Plaza, Vitruve editor, based on current statistical reports (Ostchega et al., 2011). HRR: heart rate reserve; bpm: beats per minute

Resting Heart Rate Table For Kids and Teens (Age & Fitness Level)

The National Institutes of Health of the United States provides resting heart rate values for children according to their age, from birth (Pulse: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia, 2023). We present the values in the following table, which ranges from the day of birth to adolescence, where general values are the same as in adults, between 60 and 100 beats per minute (Table 4).

Table prepared by Joaquín Vico Plaza, Vitruve editor, with data extracted from (Pulse: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia, 2023). HRR: heart rate reserve; bpm: beats per minute

The Cleveland Clinic proposes resting heart rate ranges for children similar to the ones mentioned above, but with some differences. We present them in the following table so you can compare and choose the option that interests you the most (Table 5). As we have described on several occasions, the data is generic, and that’s why we can see differences between organizations. The data from Table 5 has been extracted from the current scientific literature available (Hofmann et al., 2013; Sapra et al., 2023; Zimmerman & Williams, 2023).

Table prepared by Joaquín Vico Plaza, Vitruve editor. HRR: heart rate reserve; bpm: beats per minute

Resting Heart Rate Table For An Athlete

So far, we have discussed resting heart rate tables for the general population, but we have mentioned in passing that athletes tend to show lower levels of resting heart rate (Reimers et al., 2018). An example of this is the news that leaked many years ago highlighting that Spanish cyclist Miguel Induráin had a resting heart rate of 28 beats per minute, a figure much lower than that of the average person.

While the standard range for the general population is between 60 and 100 bpm, athletes may have much lower values, even as low as 30 bpm (Reimers et al., 2018). These values are not normal for non-athletes, so if you find that you have bradycardia, you should consult a doctor to rule out any underlying issues. The reason for the lower number of beats is that athletes have stronger and more efficient hearts, allowing them to pump and move much more blood and oxygen per beat. A normal resting heart rate range for a well-trained endurance athlete is from 40 to 60 bpm (Reimers et al., 2018), and it can be even lower.

What is a Good Resting Heart Rate By Age For An Athlete?

Firstly, we must differentiate between different sports. Powerlifting has nothing to do with triathlon. Endurance athletes are the ones who show lower resting heart rate values. Statistical reports from the National Institutes of Health of the United States (Ostchega et al., 2011) propose a bpm range for male and female athletes. Depending on the discipline and fitness level, resting heart rate will be lower or higher. We have seen the case of a Spanish cyclist with 28 bpm, something completely uncommon.

Therefore, resting heart rate values for athletes are drastically heterogeneous but can range from 40 to 60 bpm on average, always slightly higher in women. Tables 6 and 7 show general values in male and female athletes, although much lower ranges can be found in well-trained endurance athletes.

Table prepared by Joaquín Vico Plaza, Vitruve editor, with data extracted from (Ostchega et al., 2011). HRR: heart rate reserve; bpm: beats per minute

Table prepared by Joaquín Vico Plaza, Vitruve editor, with data extracted from (Ostchega et al., 2011). HRR: heart rate reserve; bpm: beats per minute

 

What is a High Resting Heart Rate For an Athlete?

The athlete ends where the human begins. This phrase that I just made up can serve to answer the question of what is a high resting heart rate for an athlete. We have emphasized time and again that the values are only indicative and can vary greatly. However, we can place 60 bpm as the threshold between general values for an athlete and those for a person with good physical fitness but who does not reach athlete values. Therefore, 60 bpm could be a high resting heart rate for an elite athlete whose discipline requires good aerobic fitness.

References

Avram, R., Tison, G. H., Aschbacher, K., Kuhar, P., Vittinghoff, E., Butzner, M., Runge, R., Wu, N., Pletcher, M. J., Marcus, G. M., & Olgin, J. (2019). Real-world heart rate norms in the Health eHeart study. NPJ Digital Medicine, 2(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/S41746-019-0134-9

Bonnemeier, H., Wiegand, U. K. H., Brandes, A., Kluge, N., Katus, H. A., Richardt, G., & Potratz, J. (2003). Circadian Profile of Cardiac Autonomic Nervous Modulation in Healthy Subjects: Journal of Cardiovascular Electrophysiology, 14(8), 791–799. https://doi.org/10.1046/J.1540-8167.2003.03078.X

Eppinga, R. N., Hagemeijer, Y., Burgess, S., Hinds, D. A., Stefansson, K., Gudbjartsson, D. F., Van Veldhuisen, D. J., Munroe, P. B., Verweij, N., & Van Der Harst, P. (2016). Identification of genomic loci associated with resting heart rate and shared genetic predictors with all-cause mortality. Nature Genetics, 48(12), 1557–1563. https://doi.org/10.1038/NG.3708

Hofmann, E., Behr, R., Neumann-Haefelin, T., & Schwager, K. (2013). Pulsatile Tinnitus: Imaging and Differential Diagnosis. Deutsches Ärzteblatt International, 110(26), 451. https://doi.org/10.3238/ARZTEBL.2013.0451

Kannel, W. B., Kannel, C., Paffenbarger, R. S., & Cupples, L. A. (1987). Heart rate and cardiovascular mortality: the Framingham Study. American Heart Journal, 113(6), 1489–1494. https://doi.org/10.1016/0002-8703(87)90666-1

Mason, J. W., Ramseth, D. J., Chanter, D. O., Moon, T. E., Goodman, D. B., & Mendzelevski, B. (2007). Electrocardiographic reference ranges derived from 79,743 ambulatory subjects. Journal of Electrocardiology, 40(3). https://doi.org/10.1016/J.JELECTROCARD.2006.09.003

Nanchen, D. (2018). Resting heart rate: what is normal? Heart (British Cardiac Society), 104(13), 1048–1049. https://doi.org/10.1136/HEARTJNL-2017-312731

Nanchen, D., Leening, M. J. G., Locatelli, I., Cornuz, J., Kors, J. A., Heeringa, J., Deckers, J. W., Hofman, A., Franco, O. H., Stricker, B. H. C., Witteman, J. C. M., & Dehghan, A. (2013). Resting heart rate and the risk of heart failure in healthy adults the rotterdam study. Circulation: Heart Failure, 6(3), 403–410. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCHEARTFAILURE.112.000171

Nanchen, D., Stott, D. J., Gussekloo, J., Mooijaart, S. P., Westendorp, R. G. J., Jukema, J. W., MacFarlane, P. W., Cornuz, J., Rodondi, N., Buckley, B. M., Ford, I., Sattar, N., & De Craen, A. J. M. (2013). Resting heart rate and incident heart failure and cardiovascular mortality in older adults: role of inflammation and endothelial dysfunction: the PROSPER study. European Journal of Heart Failure, 15(5), 581–588. https://doi.org/10.1093/EURJHF/HFS195

Ostchega, Y., Porter, K. S., Hughes, J., Charles, M. P. H. ;, Dillon, F., & Nwankwo, T. (1999). Resting Pulse Rate Reference Data for Children, Adolescents, and Adults: United States, 1999-2008.

Pulse: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved October 24, 2023, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003399.htm

Reimers, A. K., Knapp, G., & Reimers, C. D. (2018). Effects of Exercise on the Resting Heart Rate: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Interventional Studies. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 7(12). https://doi.org/10.3390/JCM7120503

Sapra, A., Malik, A., & Bhandari, P. (2023). Vital Sign Assessment. StatPearls. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK553213/

Seviiri, M., Lynch, B. M., Hodge, A. M., Yang, Y., Liew, D., English, D. R., Giles, G. G., Milne, R. L., & Dugué, P. A. (2018). Resting heart rate, temporal changes in resting heart rate, and overall and cause-specific mortality. Heart, 104(13), 1076–1085. https://doi.org/10.1136/HEARTJNL-2017-312251

Zimmerman, B., & Williams, D. (2023). Peripheral Pulse. StatPearls. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK542175/

 

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