Jul 21 , 2020
When you’re doing your best to be healthy and fit, your heart and blood are at the core of your conditioning. Three terms to get familiar with are heart rate, blood pressure, and blood oxygen. These metrics are critical for not only overall health, but for your stamina, strength, and the support of your internal systems and functioning.
For most, these terms sound familiar, but for the average person, understanding the differences will get you more in tune with your health. Knowing what’s healthy and when to be concerned is crucial, and once you have a baseline as to where you stand, you can move forward with your fitness goals better educated and enlightened.
Your heart rate is essentially how many times your heart beats in a minute. Commonly found by “taking your pulse,” you can literally count your heart rate for yourself, while you remain inactive. This is considered a “resting heart rate.” Naturally, there are high-tech gadgets that can assess this data for you, making the findings more accurate.
So, what’s “normal?” Every person is unique, but the average is between 60 and 100 beats/minute. Variables include age, size, weight, activity/fitness level, sex, and so on. Some medications may affect heart rate as well, so be sure to discuss with your doctor.
A pro athlete could have a resting heart rate of just 40 beats per minute because their body is well-conditioned, so the heart doesn’t have to work “overtime.” Being on the lower end of the spectrum generally means your fitness level is on point.
When you have a physical exam, your doctor will measure your heart rate. If the number is concerning, they’ll address the issue to make sure you’re not unhealthy or in danger.
Understand that your heart rate will adjust to your activities, positioning, and even your emotions. Medications and stimulants can rev up your beats per minute too.
When you are exercising, reaching a target heart rate and even a maximum heart rate may be your goal. You may see these increments on a cardio machine you use at the gym. To find your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. A mid-level workout should get you to a target heart rate, which is about half to 75% of the max.
You’ve surely been to the doctor for a physical exam and had your blood pressure taken, usually with a thick cuff placed around the top of your arm as the doctor or physician’s assistant pumps it tighter. This important metric will let you know if you are healthy or at risk for hypertension, which could lead to cardiovascular disease, heart attack or stroke.
The reading comes in two parts, a systolic number, and a diastolic number. Systolic is the degree of pressure in the arteries as the heart muscle contracts, and the diastolic is the reading of the blood pressure between heart beats. The overall finding is a good indicator of your heart health.
A healthy normal blood pressure is between 90-120 for the systolic, and between 60-80 for the diastolic. Anything higher is cause for concern, and it’s nothing to take lightly. Slightly over is probably safe, but your doctor will let you know if any changes in diet or lifestyle can get your numbers closer to the normal range.
Any readings that are quite high (hypertension) must be addressed. Along with personal changes like eating better, avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and smoking, lowering salt intake, reducing stress, and exercising, medications may be required to bring your blood pressure down to a healthier level.
On the flip side, a too-low reading (hypotension) may also be a health issue. Without a steady flow of blood throughout the body, insufficient oxygen levels will cause problems.
We need oxygen in our cells in order to thrive. A measurement of your blood oxygen level will determine how much oxygen is being carried by the red blood cells throughout the body.
For most of us, this level may not be checked regularly during a general exam. Mostly, a blood oxygen measurement is reserved for patients who are having issues such as chest pain or trouble breathing, as well as those with underlying illnesses like asthma, COPD, or heart disease.
There are two ways to test blood oxygen – one which tests the gasses in the blood by taking a sample from an artery, and the other uses an infrared light method which measures the capillaries. Both tests can determine if the oxygen levels are adequate, or if they are below normal (hypoxemia).
If you are experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath, an accelerated heartrate, or something similar, consult your doctor, who may administer a blood oxygen level test. Patients who are found to have a low blood oxygen level and do not resume a normal reading may require supplemental oxygen to retain their health.