In our last blog, we touched on what happens to heart rate when we exercise, how heart rate varies amongst the equestrian disciplines and the best method of measuring heart rate. This time we are going to explore the physiological adaptations that occur to the heart as a result of exercise, and what impact this has on our heart rate.
Resting Heart Rate
Resting heart rate is used as indicator of fitness and health in athletes. There are a couple of reasons sport scientists are interested in resting heart rate. Firstly, the lower the resting heart rate of an athlete the more efficient their heart is. This means they are likely to have a higher level of cardiorespiratory fitness.
But why is this? A number of positive physiological adaptations occur as a result of regular exercise. Heart hypertrophy is one. Remember that the heart is a muscle and, therefore, exercise will cause this muscle to increase in size and strength. This is known as hypertrophy. Hypertrophy will mean the heart can fill with more blood and pump more out in one beat. This results in resting heart rate being lower as the heart is more efficient.
Secondly, the speed at which heart rate returns close to its resting level after exercise stops (known as heart rate recovery) is an indicator of fitness. Again, this is linked to the fact the heart is bigger, stronger, and more efficient in fitter individuals. Therefore on cessation of exercise, the quicker heart rate recovers to its resting level the fitter the individual is likely to be.
Resting heart rate as an indicator of illness
Resting heart rate can also be used as an indicator of illness in athletes. If an athlete is starting to get ill, with a cold in winter for example, it is possible their resting heart rate might be slightly elevated. To use this as a measure of health and wellbeing, it is essential a baseline resting heart rate is established. To do this athletes would be asked to measure their resting heart rate on a daily basis and log the results. This establishes a ‘normal’ or average value for this athlete; any change away from the norm can be detected.
How to measure resting heart rate?
It’s simple. No fancy equipment needed. You can measure your pulse manually on your wrist. Simply time yourself for a minute and count the amount of times you feel a pulse. Alternatively you can do it for 30 seconds and times this value by two.
TOP TIP: Always try to take your resting heart rate in the morning first thing before you get out of bed. The clue is in the name, resting heart rate - as soon as we start to move or think about exercise our heart rate will increase.
Every heart is different
Check out our Instagram post on this because I go into more depth on how everyone’s physiology is different. Remember this: you are your own expert. By this I mean you know your body and what is normal for you. The same applies for resting heart rate - find your normal value and what is normal for you because you are therefore more likely to notice changes.