monitoring heart rate after a run

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Your Heart Rate Recovery May Be a Significant Marker of Cardiovascular Health: Here's Why

Exercise is one of the best ways to improve HRR.

By Stephanie EckelkampApril 23, 2024


If you've ever found yourself super winded after a tough cardio workout, you know it can take some time for your breathing and heart rate to normalize, even if you’re in decent shape. 

But just how quickly your heart rate returns to normal after exercising—which is assessed through a measure called heart rate recovery (HRR)—is more than a matter of convenience: It may be an indicator of your fitness level and future cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk. 

Below, we explain why heart rate recovery is an important biomarker, how to measure it, what a "good" HRR range looks like, and modifiable lifestyle factors that influence it.

What Is Heart Rate Recovery and What Does It Measure?

Heart rate recovery (aka cardio recovery) is a measurement of how quickly your heart rate declines after stopping exercise. Specifically, it is the difference between your peak heart rate right at the end of a vigorous cardiovascular workout and your heart rate anywhere from one to three minutes after you’ve stopped exercising—and it’s measured in beats per minute (bpm). 

HRR reflects the activity of the autonomic nervous system, which encompasses the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Together, these two components regulate heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, and other bodily processes. The sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous system is activated during times of physical or mental stress, including exercise, while the parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) nervous system dominates in periods of rest and recovery. 

A higher HRR indicates a faster return to normal heart rate following exercise, or a quicker transition from a sympathetic-dominant state to a parasympathetic-dominant rest state. Experts say this ability to “bounce back” or recover more efficiently represents greater cardiorespiratory fitness and all-around cardiovascular health.

Trained athletes, for example, have been shown to display high parasympathetic reactivation, while patients with chronic heart failure and coronary artery disease (CAD) have been shown to have blunted parasympathetic reactivation, resulting in reduced heart rate recovery. 

heart rate recovery health

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The Connection Between Your Heart Rate Recovery and Your Health

There appears to be a direct dose-response relationship between HRR and fitness levels—that is, having a higher HRR is typically correlated with superior cardiorespiratory fitness. Cardiorespiratory fitness, which is also sometimes used interchangeably with cardiovascular endurance, is a measure of how efficiently your heart and lungs can supply oxygen to skeletal muscles during sustained physical activity. 

“Vice versa, those who take quite a longer amount of time to recover generally have a lower cardiorespiratory fitness level and may be at increased risk for various cardiovascular diseases,” says exercise physiologist Rachelle Reed, PhD. So, in addition to being widely used as a guide to monitor changes in fitness levels over time, researchers also look at HRR as a predictor of cardiovascular events and even death, per Reed. 

Case in point: A 2017 meta-analysis found that having a lower HRR was associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular events (CAD, heart attack, and stroke) and all-cause mortality (i.e. death from any cause) among the general population—and for every 10-bpm decrease in HRR, that risk jumped by 13 percent and 9 percent, respectively. This builds on previous research showing that higher or more rapid HRR is associated with lower risk of CAD and cardiovascular events. 

According to the meta-analysis authors, their findings support the routine use of HRR in clinical practice to assess CVD risk and help implement early preventative interventions. In a doctor’s office, for example, your HRR may be measured after undergoing an exercise stress test, which typically involves walking on a treadmill at increasingly faster speed and incline. Stress tests also evaluate things like heart rhythm, respiration, and blood pressure.

People with low HRR are also more likely to have diabetes, suggesting that cardio recovery rate could be an indicator of metabolic health as well. This makes sense, since greater cardiorespiratory fitness is associated with significantly reduced risk of diabetes. 

How Does Cardio Recovery Rate Impact Your Fitness?

As mentioned, having a higher HRR appears to correspond with improved cardiorespiratory fitness levels. So as you take steps to improve your cardiorespiratory fitness with increased cardiovascular exercise, your cardio recovery rate or HRR should improve over time, too. 

Here’s How To Measure Heart Rate Recovery

As previously mentioned: HRR or cardio recovery rate is the difference between your peak heart rate right at the end of a vigorous cardiovascular workout and your heart rate anywhere from one to thres minutes after you’ve stopped exercising, measured in beats per minute (bpm). 

peak heart rate - heart rate after one minute = heart rate recovery (HRR)

Here are the basics of how to calculate your one-minute HRR with an example:

  1. Calculate your peak heart rate: Right as you finish a vigorous cardio workout session (think: HIIT, running, or cycling), check your heart rate. You can do this by taking your pulse on your wrist for 15 seconds and multiplying by four to get beats per minute, or if you’re wearing a smartwatch or other wearable device, simply note your heart rate. 

  2. Rest one minute, then check your heart rate again. Important to note: Each time you measure your HRR on subsequent occasions, make sure you’re resting in the same way (e.g. standing with your hands on your hips, sitting with your hands on your lap, etc.) so you’re getting consistent results that you can track over time.

  3. Take the difference between these numbers. If your peak heart rate was 170 bpm and your post-exercise heart rate was 150 bpm, then your HRR or cardio recovery rate is 20.   

While one-minute HRR is the most common way to measure heart rate recovery, “your heart rate continues to recover back toward resting levels for much longer than one minute post-exercise, and there is likely value in tracking that pattern over time,” says Reed. Just be consistent with what you measure so you can effectively track your progress.  

What’s Considered a Good Heart Rate Recovery?

Some health organizations and research articles have outlined what a good one-minute HRR or cardio recovery rate might look like, but there has yet to be a consensus. 

  • The Cleveland Clinic says an HRR of 18 bpm or higher is considered good. 

  • The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) says one-minute HRR for the average person is between 15 to 25 bpm, with a higher number indicating a quicker recovery and a potentially healthier heart. Below 12 bpm could be an indicator of heart problems, so they recommend seeing a doctor to help clarify any potential issues. 

  • Authors of a 2018 study state that the cutoff for a healthy HRR is 13 bpm. 

Keep in mind: There’s some variability from person to person in what a good HRR or cardio recovery rate looks like, says Reed. For example, age is a factor that contributes to a lower HRR: Research shows that as you get older, your peak heart rate during exercise tends to be lower, which means there’s less potential for your HRR to reach a higher number. Study authors state that there tends to be a significant decrease in HRR after age 60, making even healthy individuals more likely to have a HRR closer to the lower end of the healthy range.  

Additionally, HRR should ideally be calculated after a vigorous workout—so if you try to calculate it after a more moderate sweat session, chances are you’ll get a lower number. 

Reed emphasizes the importance of working with an exercise physiologist or cardiologist if you have questions or concerns about your HRR value.

woman recovering from workout

Maskot via Getty Images

The Things That May Impact Your Cardio Recovery Rate

It’s not just fitness levels that influence HRR—although, they do play a big part. Things like your caffeine intake, hydration status, and how much sleep you’re getting also impact your numbers. 

  • Caffeine: A 2017 study found that consuming 300 mg of caffeine (roughly the amount in 24 ounces of home-brewed coffee) prior to working out negatively impacted HRR and blood pressure recovery, likely by delaying reactivation of the parasympathetic nervous system.

  • Inadequate sleep: In a 2014 study, one group of people completed a treadmill workout after a normal night’s sleep while another group performed the workout after completing an overnight shift. Researchers found that the sleep-deprived group’s HRR was, on average, 5 bpm lower, suggesting that sleep deprivation negatively impacts autonomic nervous system function and subsequently heart rate. Per the study authors, the more often you skimp on sleep, the greater the potential consequences.

  • Dehydration: Dehydration reduces blood volume, which means your heart has to work harder (and faster) to pump enough blood to your tissues and organs. A 2015 study found that wrestlers who underwent rapid weight loss—achieved by restriction of energy and fluid intake—experienced delayed heart rate recovery after exercise, along with decreases in peak power and increased fatigue. 

The good news: this means there are multiple ways by which you can improve your HRR. 

How To Improve Your Heart Rate Recovery

“Exercise and fitness level are likely the biggest factors that influence your HRR,” says Reed. The consensus of the evidence, she says, suggests that adults should aim to meet the following minimum dose of activity each week: 

  • Cardiovascular activity: At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity—or a mixture of the two.

  • Strength training: At least 2 days of strength training for all major muscle groups.

While activities like slower runs, cycling, and hiking can help build up an ‘aerobic base’ level of fitness that helps train your muscles to use oxygen more efficiently during exercise, there’s value in including higher-intensity work, too, says Reed. Think: One to two 15-20 minute HIIT workouts per week on top of your moderate intensity cardio and resistance training regimens. 

Start working towards your fitness goals today.

Additionally, make sure you’re sleeping well (aim for at least 7 hours per night), staying well hydrated, and keeping your caffeine intake in check will also support overall health and positively impact HRR. 

The Takeaway

Heart rate recovery is a measurement of how quickly your heart rate recovers, or returns to normal, after a bout of cardiovascular exercise. It’s simple to calculate and can provide valuable insight into your cardiorespiratory fitness levels and cardiovascular disease risk. In general, the higher your HRR, the better—and you may want to consult with your doctor for additional testing if your HRR is low. Taking steps to improve your fitness levels (e.g. increasing the amount of exercise you do and incorporating some higher intensity sessions) is the best way to boost your HRR, but getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, and avoiding excess caffeine may help, too.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.


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