Keep a Healthy Heart: Monitor your Heart-Rate The Right Way

photo credit: David Goehring.

As we’ve mentioned previously, February is Heart Month. And while we know you’re doing your best to eat right and exercise regularly, taking charge of your health means looking at all the data to make the best decisions you can. This is why it’s important to take objective measurements of your health.

For example, the smart people over at the “Dummies” how-to site say this on the importance of monitoring your heart rate:

By keeping track of your heart rate over a long period of time, you discover some interesting things about your progress. When you’re a beginner, your heart has to work a lot harder to keep up with your body’s demands for blood and oxygen. If you work out on a regular basis, your aerobic system gradually becomes more efficient and you may need to step up the difficulty of your workout.

Monitoring your resting heart rate is also a good idea. Your resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute when you’re just sitting around. When you start exercising, your resting heart rate may be as high as 90. But after a few months of exercising, your resting heart rate may drop 10 or 20 beats.

The Canadian National Research Council has an experiment up on how to take your pulse manually, and how to chart it over time. It’s meant for teams of two, but you can do it for yourself anytime you feel like. Just remember: count each pulse over a 15-second period, then multiply by four. That’s your heart rate.

If you forget how to take your pulse manually, or if you find the gym a tough place to focus on your pulse, the Instant Heart Rate app from Azumio might help. It detects your pulse when you rest the softest part of your fingertip over the camera in your smartphone. Be careful not to press too hard, though, as doing so can restrict your circulation and make your pulse tough to read.

The same goes for Heart Rate Monitoring from Runkeeper, a facet to the popular running app that charts your progress as a runner in terms of time, distance, and location.

Of course, you might not want to mess around with apps, or go digging for your phone in order to take your pulse. Luckily, there are a variety of watches that can monitor your heart rate. The most recent entry to the market is the Mio Alpha, which works just like a watch but promises to deliver more accurate readings than similar devices.

And for those who want a more traditional monitoring device, UnderArmour has released a new “performance monitor” that includes a chest strap. The strap can connect to your phone or other devices via Bluetooth, and you can even send the data (including time spent exercising and calories burned) to your trainer if you like.

However you choose to go about it, it’s important that you gather empirical data about your health so that you make realistic goals and plan accordingly. Doing so won’t just make you a better athlete, it will make you a more informed patient at your next check-up!