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How to Access Resting Heart Rate and Blood Pressure


The Difference Between Blood Pressure and Heart Rate

Blood pressure is the force exerted against the artery walls when blood pumps through the body, usually measured with two numbers. The top number (systolic pressure) measures the pressure as the heart beats and moves blood into the arteries. The bottom number (diastolic pressure) measures the pressure as the heart relaxes between beats. A blood pressure reading of 120/80 is considered normal.

Heart rate, also called pulse, is the number of times your heart beats per minute. Heart rate can change based on activity level, age, medication, and other factors throughout life. For most adults, a resting heart rate of 50 to 100 beats per minute is considered normal. People who exercise regularly often have lower resting heart rates.

Reading Resting Heart Rate (RHR)

An accurate resting heart rate reading is acquired first thing in the morning after waking. Waking by an alarm clock or music may temporarily cause a rise in HR, so a few moments may be necessary to allow the body to relax. An average of three morning RHRs is taken to provide an accurate RHR. The second best method is to sit quietly for five or 10 minutes during the day and take the heart rate for a full 60 seconds to get an accurate measurement.

If RHR varies by 10-15% (higher than average) on any given morning, that is a day for a very light workout or none at all. For whatever reason, due to fatigue, stress, or illness, the heart is working harder than normal at rest and it would be better to let the body rest or to recover until RHR returns to normal. It is expected to see heart rate rise with physical exertion, and quite another to see it rising without any physical effort.

If a heart rate monitor is not available, RHR is best taken on the radial artery at the wrist rather than the carotid artery on the neck, but excessive pressure on either artery can cause HR to slow in an unwanted manner. Due to the proximity of the carotid artery in the neck and relating to blood flow to the head and brain, it is safer to take the heart rate at the radial artery.

Resting heart rate can be affected by many factors. The more aerobically trained a person is, the lower their resting heart rate will be. High blood pressure causes higher RHR. Alcohol consumption decreases RHR, while medications such as pseudoephedrine increase RHR. Keep these factors in mind when measuring someone’s RHR, and remember to take a health history before assessing heart rate.

Learn how to design fitness training programs to target your clients ideal heart rate zones.

Accessing Blood Pressure

Blood pressure can be assessed manually or automatically (electric-powered), with a sphygmomanometer. A desirable reading is 120/80. Keep in mind that a reading over 140/90, on two or more separate occasions is a potential indicator that your client may have hypertension and should seek guidance from a medical doctor if they haven’t already done so.

Administering the blood pressure assessment:

  1. Place the cuff firmly around the upper arm with the lower edge one inch above the elbow. The middle of the bladder should be over the brachial artery.
  2. Place the bell of the stethoscope one inch below the cuff, directly over the brachial artery.
  3. Inflate the blood pressure cuff to 170 mm/hg while listening through the stethoscope.
  4. Slowly release the pressure 2-3 mm/hg. The first beat heard is the systolic pressure.
  5. Steadily decrease pressure at the same rate until the pitch either changes or a beat is no longer heard. This is the diastolic pressure.
  6. Wait 1-2 minutes or more before repeating if necessary to allow circulation to return to normal.

Make sure to measure blood pressure after the individual has been seated and relaxed for several minutes for a more accurate reading. Readings done while physical activity is occurring can be difficult. But what would these responses be? When performing aerobic exercise, systolic BP will rise, with diastolic pressure dropping or staying roughly the same. Ideally, the arm should always remain relaxed during a BP assessment.

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