Our expert says:
It's not quite a straightforward question this one, though the way it's often reported and written about, you'd think it was! The first issue is when you measure it - ideally, it should be the same time of day, all the time, and after a good night's sleep (which is often difficult to guarantee).
Then you will also have such large individual differences between people that trying to say something is "ideal" is very difficult. It's not like blood glucose, or blood pH that is very very tightly regulated and is similar in all people.
Now, your value of 72 is still normal. And for it to increase to 168 during exercise is also no surprise. Again, remember that not all exercise is equal, and so sometimes, it might hit 180, others not quite as high as this. It's important to move away from the perception that heart rate is the be all and end all of exercise fitness and performance. The best way to use your heart rate monitor is to use it to compare training sessions from week to week. Therefore, if you train one day doing a particular session, take note of your heart rate. The next time you do the exact same session (say 30 minutes run at 12 km/hour), you should be able to compare your heart rate during the session. If it is lower, then it indicates that you are fitter than before, and your training is going well. If it is higher, then it shows that you are either tired, or training too hard or are possibly becoming ill. This is a sign that you are in need of a few easy training days.
It is important that you don't think of heart rate as the absolute indication of fitness or health. It is the differences between heart rates in exactly the same session that is important, and understanding how your own individual heart rate differs from week to week will allow you to train with great precision.
Lastly, remember that heart rate depends on many factors - hydration, mood, stress levels, temperature and so on. Therefore, if your heart rate is not exactly what you think it should be, don't worry too much. Rather look at long term changes and patterns in heart rate, and try to interpret them as I explained above.
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