How Fast Should Your Heart Rate Lower After Exercise?

by Lisa Nelson, RD, LN Health Professional

Your heart rate can tell you a lot about your fitness level. How quickly your heart rate returns to normal after activity may be an indicator of your heart fitness.

Normal resting heart rate

According to the National Institute of Health, average resting heart rate should be:

  • 60–100 beats per minutes for children 10 years and older, as well as adults/seniors

  • 40-60 beats per minute for well-trained athletes

Target heart rate during exercise

For moderate intensity activities, your target heart rate is 50–69 percent maximum heart rate. For vigorous activity levels your target heart rate is 70-85 percent maximum heart rate.

To calculate your target heart rate subtract your age from 220. This gives you your maximum heart rate. Now, multiply your maximum heart rate by 0.5 and 0.69 to obtain your target heart rate range for moderate intensity activities. Multiply your maximum heart rate by 0.7 and 0.85 to obtain your target heart rate range for vigorous activities.

Depending on your goal intensity -- moderate vs. vigorous -- your heart rate should fall within your target heart rate range during activities.

If you are typically inactive, set your goal for the lower end (50-60 percent maximum heart rate) and work your way up over time.

Some blood pressure medications lower maximum heart rates. Discuss with your doctor if you currently take blood pressure medications. Your target heart rate zone may need to be adjusted.

How to measure heart rate

The easiest and most accessible location for measuring heart rate during exercise is your wrist. Please your index and middle fingers over the underside of your opposite wrist and press until your feel your pulse.

Once you locate your pulse, count the beats for 30 seconds and multiply by 2 to obtain beats per minute. Alternate time lengths for measuring:

  • Count the beats for 15 seconds and multiply by 4

  • Count the beats for 10 seconds and multiply by 6

If you want to check your resting heart rate, rest for at least 10 minutes period to measuring.

When exercising, if your heart rate is too high, you’re working too hard and need to slow down. The opposite is also true. If your heart rate is too slow, you need to increase your intensity.

Once you have a feel for where your heart rate is when you’re working out, you can also estimate your heart rate while exercising by using the talk test.

  • If you can talk with no trouble, pick up the pace.

  • If you can talk, but need to take a breath every 4-5 words, you’re right on track.

  • If you’re gasping for breath after every word, slow downPost exercise heart rate

The better your heart fitness, the more quickly your heart rate returns to normal after exercise.

Typically, heart rate drops quickly within the first minute after exercise. After this initial drop, it should then continue to return to normal at a rate of ~20 beats per minute.

Heart rate benefits of exercising

Aerobic exercise, such as jogging, enlarges and strengths the heart muscle, allowing the heart to circulate more blood with each beat. This means as the heart is strengthened it can beat more slowly during activity (and at rest).

A high resting heart rate has been associated with increased risk of heart disease independent of other cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

A low resting heart rate is generally an indicator of better heart health.

If you are working to increase your activity level but struggle sticking with it week after week access How to Make Heart Healthy Changes into Lifelong Habits here.


Lisa Nelson is a dietitian/nutritionist with a genetic predisposition for high cholesterol and heart disease. She guides clients to lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels through practical diet and lifestyle changes. Learn more and sign up to receive How to Make Heart Healthy Changes into Lifelong Habits at http://lisanelsonrd.com.

Lisa Nelson, RD, LN
Meet Our Writer
Lisa Nelson, RD, LN

Lisa Nelson RD, a registered dietitian since 1999, provides step-by-step guidance to lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure, so you can live life and enjoy your family for years to come. Lisa's passion for health comes from her own family history of heart disease, so she doesn't dispense trendy treatments; Lisa practices what she teaches in her own daily life. Because her own health is the foundation of her expertise, you can trust that Lisa will make it truly possible for you to see dramatic changes in your health, without unrealistic fads or impossibly difficult techniques.