News on Health & Science

Feel Your Pulse

Our heart works to keep us alive. As it beats, pressure waves travel along the blood vessels as a “pulse” which can be felt at the wrist, in the armpit, on either side of the neck, in the thigh, behind the knee and in the foot. The pulse rate is an indication of the heart rate.

The wrist is the easiest place to measure the pulse. Place the tips of the index, second, and third fingers on the palm side of the other wrist, below the base of the thumb. Press lightly with the fingers. The pulse can be distinctly felt as a steady beat. The rate is usually counted for 30 seconds, and then the value obtained multiplied is by two. The pulse is expressed as the rate in one minute.

The rate varies at the different stages of our life. It is normally:

• 100 to 160 in children less than 1 year old,

• 70 to 120 in children between 1 and 10 years,

• 60 to 100 after that,

• 40 to 60 in trained athletes.

It can go up to 200 with exercise, anxiety or fear.

For running, jogging, swimming and other forms of aerobic exercise to be efficient, the “target heart rate” has to be achieved. This is 60-80 per cent of the predicted maximum heart rate (the highest rate achieved during maximal exercise, and calculated by deducting your age from 220). So if you are 35 years old, your predicted maximum heart rate is 185 and target heart rate is 60-80 per cent of this — 111-148.

As athletic conditioning improves, the target heart rate is achieved within a few minutes. Once the exercise is stopped, the rate returns to normal equally fast, usually within two minutes.

Newspapers and television all over the world have been publicising the benefits of regular exercise. In spite of knowing that exercise is good for us, 70 per cent of adults over the age of 50 years do not get adequate exercise.

To ensure that the exercise is efficient and adequate, the target heart rate should be achieved and maintained for a minimum of 30 minutes for five days a week. (A slow stroll in rubber slippers while gossiping vociferously obviously will not do the trick).

Pure yoga, Tai-Chi or other stationary exercises are good for acquiring muscle strength and improving balance and posture. But they have to be combined with active movement for efficient heart protective exercise.

Before the discovery of stethoscopes, electrocardiograms and X-rays, physicians had little evidence to go on, except the pulse rate. By feeling the wrist they were able to arrive at a variety of diagnoses.

Anxiety and excitement increase the rate, producing a rapid, throbbing pulse. This is the basis on which patients sometimes say, “The doctor felt my pulse and diagnosed pregnancy!” An overactive thyroid gland, anaemia and heart diseases have the same effect. Coffee, tea and many cola drinks, containing caffeine, increase the heart rate if taken in sufficient quantities.

The pulse may be slow in well-trained athletes, if the thyroid levels are low, and if there are diseases of the heart, especially heart blocks. Certain medication used to treat high blood pressure also slow the heart rate.

A resting pulse rate of more than 76 doubles the risk of heart disease. To lower the rate to desirable levels check with your doctor and then start exercising. If your life has been sedentary, the intensity of exercise should be graded and increased gradually. You should feel a warm glow as you start the exercise and should be able to speak a complete sentence at all times while exercising. It is important to have a five-minute slow walk to “warm up” and a similar one to “cool down” at the end to give the heart time to adjust. This prevents muscle injury as well.

Although 30 minutes is the minimum recommended, it does not all have to be done at one stretch. It can be broken up into five or 10-minute slots and done several times a day. The other way to exercise adequately is to buy a pedometer, clip it on and try to complete 10,000 steps a day.

As age advances, it becomes important to remain fit and maintain a healthy heart. Studies have shown that fitness levels can be calculated by measuring the pulse rate. Individuals with a low resting pulse rate, rapid acceleration to target levels and quick recovery are likely to live longer and have active and healthy lives.

The amount and intensity of the exercise is important. It is, also, never too late to start. At any age from five to 100, it is important to start moving and keep on doing so.

Adults who have taken up regular exercise even after the age of 70, have remained independent and mobile, and have reduced their risk of dying before the age of 90 by nearly 30 per cent.

The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)

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