Any type of physical activity can get your heart pumping and make you breathe faster. That's good news, because the first step toward experiencing the many awesome benefits of fitness is to raise your pulse to at least 60 percent of its max. When your heart rate increases, so too does your rate of breathing. After a workout, there are a ton of variables that determine how long it takes for your heart and breathing rates to return to normal, including your fitness level, age and certain medications. It's normal to experience elevated breathing and heart rates after intense physical activity, but prolonged recovery can be an indicator of health issues.
Increased Heart Rate and Respiration During Exercise
As the intensity of exercise increases when you work out, your heart rate and oxygen consumption will also rise. You naturally begin to breathe heavier and more quickly to meet the increased oxygen demands of your body. A number of factors can affect your heart rate during exercise, including nutrition, hydration, stress, medications and the time of day. However, even with these variables, you should aim to keep your heart rate around 60 to 85 percent of your maximum during exercise to reap the health benefits. Hint: You can determine your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220.
Heart Rate Recovery
Heart Rate Recovery is the length of time it takes for the heart rate to return to normal after a period of exercise. This time period will vary depending on exercise intensity. HRR may take one hour after light exercise and 24 hours after intense training. In addition to being a strong indicator of cardiovascular fitness, HRR can also predict sports performance. A 2009 study published in the "Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports" found that HRR can be used to effectively monitor performance changes in endurance athletes and help determine the best training loads for workouts.
How to Determine HRR
You can use a simple calculation to estimate your HRR to track improvements over time. Take your pulse for 60 seconds immediately after exercising and record the number. You can find your pulse by placing your middle and index fingers over the radial artery on the inside of your wrist or the carotid artery in your neck. Let a minute pass, take your pulse again and record that number. Your HRR is the difference between your first and second recordings.
There are many ways to improve heart rate recovery so that pulse and breathing rates return to normal within a healthy time frame after exercise -- and you don't have to spend hours in the gym each day to do it. Slowly increasing your exercise intensity and duration over time will improve your cardiovascular fitness. Even if you only walk or jog for a few minutes at first, use that as a base to build on and make each workout a little harder and a little longer. Maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating properly, getting plenty of rest and -- maybe the toughest of all -- managing stress. This may go without saying, but smoking, excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption aren't great for your heart, either.
- ACSM.org: The Heart Rate Debate
- MayoClinic.com: Heart Rate: What's Normal?
- Cornell.edu: Experts Study Heart Rate Before and After Exercise
- Continuing Education in Anaesthesia, Critical Care & Pain; Physiological Effects of Exercise; Deborah Burton, Keith Stokes & George Hall
- Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports; Heart rate recovery as a guide to monitor fatigue and predict changes in performance parameters; R.P. Lamberts et al.
- NEMAhealth.org: What You Should Know About Your Heart Rate or Pulse
- Heart Rate Training: Roy Benson, Jr. & Declan Connolly
- Fitness & Health; Brian J. Sharkey & Steven E. Gaskill
Jessica Bell has been working in the health and fitness industry since 2002. She has served as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. Bell holds an M.A. in communications and a B.A. in English.