Regular exercise can produce a number of positive changes in you, from weight loss to improved mood. At the root of these global changes are a multitude of smaller changes in your body's physiology. These can include hormonal adaptations, improved lung capacity, enhanced digestion and improved circulation. Regular aerobic exercise trains your heart to be more efficient. This generally leads to a reduction in your resting heart rate over time.
Resting Heart Rate
To measure your heart rate, find your pulse at the side of your neck or at your wrist and count the number of pulses for 15 seconds. Multiply that number times four to get your total pulses per minute, or heart rate. The average resting heart rate for adults is 60 to 100. A fit person generally has more efficient heart function, so her resting heart rate will be on the low side. Sports medicine specialist Edward Laskowski, M.D., says that it's not unusual for an elite athlete to have a resting rate in the low 40s.
Effects of Exercise on the Heart
A review article published in 2010 in the journal "Circulation" describes the many ways exercise affects the heart. Among the benefits are increased strength of the heart muscle, along with increased elasticity of the heart. These changes allow the heart to pump more blood with each contraction. This means that the heart doesn't have to beat as often to pump the same volume of blood. That's how exercise leads to a decrease in your resting heart rate.
To maintain a healthy heart, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. Shoot for 30 to 60 minutes per day of moderate-intensity exercise at least five days a week. One continuous session or multiple shorter sessions, of at least 10 minutes, can help you reach your desired daily goals. If you have a tight schedule, exercise more vigorously for 20 to 60 minutes three days per week. To help you stay with it and reduce your injury risk, increase your exercise time, frequency and intensity gradually.
Checking Your Progress
Since a declining resting heart rate is a good indication of effective training, you can use it to check your fitness progress. Before you get out of bed in the morning, check your resting heart rate. Write it down and keep track over time. If you see the numbers decreasing over time, you know that your training is on track. If the numbers start increasing, you could be overtraining or not getting enough rest. An increasing resting rate should prompt a change in your training.
Ron Rogers, a Washington chiropractor, has worked with local and national regulatory bodies in his profession and has provided consultation to the national chiropractic licensing board. He is recognized by the National Strength and Conditioning Association as a certified strength and conditioning specialist. Rogers' works have been published in several peer-reviewed professional journals, covering topics ranging from musculoskeletal diagnosis to research-based rehabilitation strategies.