Hearing your heartbeat can be terrifying. It can also be exhilarating. What does that mysteriously incessant rhythm mean?

Well, it could mean a lot of things. After all, it’s a highly complex organ. It can tell you whether or not you are at a higher risk for heart attack, or it can tell you that you need a few glasses of water.

Don’t just sit there waiting for your heart to start speaking English. Read on to learn how to listen to your heart more effectively. (No, that’s not a Roxette reference.)

Wearing a Heart Rate Monitor

First and foremost, stop relying on your ears and fingers as the sole determinates of whether or not you have a healthy heart. There are plenty of resources out there, and few are more practical and handy than a portable heart rate monitor.

While not fail-proof devices, portable heart rate monitors are handy tools that help you track key changes in your heart rate.

Heart rate monitors can be difficult to understand if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Here are a few important concepts to familiarize yourself with.

Resting Heart Rate

Your resting heart rate is self-explanatory. It’s a minute long measure of how many times your heart beats while there’s little to no stress acting on it. An optimal time to measure it is in the morning before you embark on the day’s duties.

The average resting heart rate for a human is between 60 BPM (beats per minute) and 100 BPM. If you have a resting heart rate lower than that, it doesn’t necessarily mean that something is wrong with you.  In fact, more other than not, it signifies that you’re doing something right.

Some Olympians have recorded resting heart rates as little as 42 BPM. That being said, most of us aren’t Olympians.  If you are experiencing these other symptoms with a lower heart rate, check with your doctor.

Maximum Heart Rate

Your maximum heart rate is the rate at which your heart beats its hardest to meet your body’s oxygen levels.  It is used to classify different heart rate zones.

Heart Rate Zones

Heart rate zones are very good indicators of our levels of intensity regarding exercise.  They allow us to monitor how vigorously our heart is working. We want strong hearts.  Our aerobic capacity signifies whether we have one.

Shooting for 50% of one’s VO2 max is generally a good mark for anyone looking to start an exercise program. From there, you can start to work up toward 70%-80% of your VO2 max.

Your heart pumping hard is not necessarily something to be afraid of.  In fact, it’s something to work toward. However, you want to be smart about how hard you work your heart.

Always check with a physician to make sure you are healthy for cardiovascular exercise.

Your Heartbeat During Exercise

Having a heart rate monitor is an excellent tool to use if you’re looking to gain a better understanding of how hard your heart is working. But it’s certainly not the only thing to keep in mind while listening to your heartbeat.

Here are some other factors that can potentially affect your heart rate while exercising.

Hydration and Nutrition

While dehydrated, the amount of blood that circulates through your body decreases. Your heart beats faster and tries to pick up the slack. It’s not healthy to be at 70% of your maximum heart rate while your heart is trying to pick up your body’s slack.

Bottom line: don’t try to be Lance Armstrong if you haven’t had a glass of water all day.

Similarly, if you haven’t eaten for three days, you shouldn’t be ‘going ham in the gym’. Your heart has enough baggage, don’t add a lack of food to the list.

Sleep

If you haven’t slept in three days, chances are you’ll experience some fatigue.  Your heart is no exception. Again, it picks up your body’s slack when we don’t treat it right (it always gets the short end of the stick).

Lack of sleep can even increase your risk of heart disease. Get some shut-eye and work out tomorrow if you’re pulling all-nighters.

Stress

Lack of sleep, water, and food are not things you should push past in pursuit of your fitness goals. Stress, however, usually is.  Exercise can reduce stress, and in turn, reduce the effects of stress on your heart.

Relationships, work-related stress, and grief from deaths in the family will undoubtedly affect your physical health as well as your mental health.

In stressful times, it’s difficult to keep your heart health as a top priority. Nonetheless, you’ll thank yourself at the end of a workout.

Maintaining a Healthy Heartbeat

Since your heartbeat can mean so many things, it’s important to have yearly visits to your physician. That being said, if you want to maintain a healthy heart, you need exercise.

Making exercise a routine is difficult. Finding the right routine is an entirely different animal. Consulting with qualified fitness professionals takes some of the load off your shoulders.

You know what it’s like. You go to the gym every day for three weeks straight and one day you get off work late. The thought of the gym sounds awful and you skip a day.

Then, a day turns into a week, and before you know it, you’re back to a sedentary lifestyle.  It doesn’t have to be like that.

A great way to combat the gym gloom is to become apart of a community. Work with people who have similar goals. Group classes are especially useful at facilitating the camaraderie we all crave. You don’t have to do this on your own.

Don’t dread your heartbeat. It’s time to wake up and familiarize yourself with its rhythms. Get out there and get moving and your heart will echo your thump, thump, thump.

Disclaimer:

No content in this article, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinicians.

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