Heart Rate Recovery | The Sisterhood of the Shrinking Jeans LLC


This past weekend while my team mates and I were walking, one of the ladies asked us a question that has been on her mind lately. That question is the topic of today’s post….

How long should it take for your heart rate to return normal after an intense exercise session?

I decided to do some research and find an answer for her, and YOU.

The short answer is: Your heart rate drops most sharply in the first minute after you stop exercising; it should then fall about 20 beats a minute—a drop of less than 12 beats a minute is considered abnormal.

The longer version of this answer is that the harder we exercise (raising your heart rate to your Maximum Target Heart) the longer it will take to return to normal. But, lets back up and find out what your maximum target heart rate should be, so we know what you are aiming for while exercising.

According to Heart.org these are your target heart rates for ages ranging from 20 to 70 year olds.

Age Target HR Zone 50-85% Average Maximum Heart Rate, 100%
20 years 100-170 beats per minute 200 beats per minute
30 years 95-162 beats per minute 190 beats per minute
35 years 93-157 beats per minute 185 beats per minute
40 years 90-153 beats per minute 180 beats per minute
45 years 88-149 beats per minute 175 beats per minute
50 years 85-145 beats per minute 170 beats per minute
55 years 83-140 beats per minute 165 beats per minute
60 years 80-136 beats per minute 160 beats per minute
65 years 78-132 beats per minute 155 beats per minute
70 years 75-128 beats per minute 150 beats per minute

For example, if you are 40 years old, your maximum heart rate should not exceed 180 beats per minute, and you should aim for a heart rate around 153 for intense exercise. If you are exercising at the lower end of this target heart rate zone, you won’t be getting as much benefit as you would at the higher end of the scale. When my team mates and I are training for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day we walk a lot of miles to prepare for the event, but we are not walking at such an intense pace that we can’t keep up a good conversation, which is generally the guideline for “is that too intense”?

How do you know if your exercise intensity is high enough? According to this article your heart rate should decline more slowly after the first post-exercise minute. It should equal your pre-exercise heart rate about 30 minutes after your workout, according to the FAA report. “A heart rate above 120 heartbeats per minute five minutes after your workout means you’re exercising too intensely and your next workout should be less intense so your heart rate recovery time improves,” exercise expert Kenneth Cooper writes. Improved fitness will shorten your recovery time in the long run, but you shouldn’t try to improve your fitness too rapidly. Physically fit people’s heart rate recovery time is faster than less fit people’s recovery time because their cardiovascular systems “are more efficient and adapt more quickly” to vigorous exercise, according to a Federal Aviation Administration report.

You can calculate your fitness by taking your pulse during your exercise and one minute after your exercise. (Here’s a great free app for your iPhone that will take your pulse using your fingertip!) Your recovery rate number is the difference between the two heart rates divided by 10. For example, you recovery rate would be four if your exercise heart rate is 120 and your recovery heart rate is 80.

You can monitor your heart rate before, during, and after exercise using a heart rate monitor. Heart rate monitors tend to take the guess work out, and even have the ability to alert you when you’re exceeding your target heart rate so you can back off on the intensity.

Your physical condition is:

  • outstanding if your recovery rate number is above six
  • excellent if your recovery rate number is between four and six
  • good if the number is three to four
  • fair if the number is two to three
  • poor if the number is less than two

If your recovery rate is less than two, get to the doctor as soon as possible for a physical and stress test. There could be some serious issues going on in your cardiovascular system and you need to take care of that as soon as possible.

It could be a sign of dehydration, so if your heart rate doesn’t recover quickly you could be dehydrated.  Make sure you are hydrating with water and electrolytes, and see if that will help your recovery time. If your recovery time is longer than it should be you might also be exercising too hard. Next time you go out try to reduce your intensity a bit and see if that helps with your recovery time. It could also have something to do with medication you are taking. A couple of years ago I was on a medication dose that was not a correct dosage for me, and it made my heart race whenever I exercised.  Bottom line is if you continue having a difficult time getting your heart rate to come down, please consult your physician immediately. Your cardiovascular health is not something to mess around with!



Disclosure: We are not medical or fitness professionals. If you have concerns regarding your target heart rate or heart rate recovery, please seek professional advice.

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