It’s important to be heart-healthy in every sense, from your blood pressure to cholesterol levels and more. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for most racial and ethnic groups in the US, per the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and someone in the US has a heart attack every 40 seconds.

While some heart health metrics are best left to professionals, others can be checked easily at home. Staying up to speed on your heart health can help you avoid any issues or catch them early.

To be clear, we do recommend regularly getting your heart checked out by a pro. But in the meantime, there are ways to monitor your own heart health yourself, right in the comfort of your home, without any special devices. You just need a few minutes and a bit of math.

Here are two easy ways to measure your heart health at home without equipment. Plus, learn the most common signs and symptoms of heart problems to look out for.

Try the stairs test

Do you get out of breath while walking up the stairs? One 2020 study by the European Society of Cardiology found that you can assess your heart health by timing how long it takes you to ascend four flights of stairs.

“If it takes you more than 1½ minutes to ascend four flights of stairs, your health is suboptimal, and it would be a good idea to consult a doctor,” explains study author Dr. Jesús Peteiro, a cardiologist at University Hospital A Coruña, Spain.

The study compared the results of the stairs test and more in-depth medical tests of heart health, like a treadmill test. They found some overlap — 58% of patients who took longer than 1½ minutes to complete the stairs test had “abnormal heart function during the treadmill examination,” per the study. People who took less time to ascend the stairs also had higher exercise capacity, which in turn is linked with a lower mortality rate.

Dr. Peteiro also authored a 2018 study in which over 12,000 participants walked up three flights of stairs. Those who weren’t able to do it quickly were nearly three times more likely to die from heart disease over the next five years (3.2% compared to 1.7%).

Notably, both studies only looked at people with symptoms of coronary artery disease. But Dr. Peteiro said that, when it comes to measuring exercise capacity, the stairs test should work similarly in the general population. And various types of step tests have long been used by medical professionals to assess heart and lung fitness.

Check your heart rate

Your heart rate, also known as your pulse, is a basic measurement of heart health, which is why your doctor or nurse often listens for it during check-ups. It’s easy to measure at home with no equipment and offers useful information about your heart and overall fitness.

Your heart rate naturally changes throughout the day, depending on how much you’re exerting yourself. During moments of high stress or intense physical exertion, for example, your heart beats faster. When you’re relaxed or asleep, it beats more slowly.

There are two types of heart rate you can measure at home: resting heart rate and maximum heart rate. First, we’ll go over what each one means. Then we’ll explain how to measure.

Resting heart rate

Your “resting heart rate” is your pulse at rest, when you’re relaxed and still. Research shows that higher resting heart rates are linked with lower physical fitness, higher blood pressure, and an increased risk of heart attack and death.

What’s “low” or “normal” varies a bit by the individual. In general, healthy adult heart rates range from 60 to 100 beats per minute, but ranges also depend on age. Here are the target resting heart rate ranges for various age groups:

Age Target Resting Heart Rate
20 years 100 – 170 beats per minute (bpm)
30 years 95 – 162 bpm
40 years 90 – 153 bpm
50 years 85 – 145 bpm
60 years 80 – 136 bpm
70 years 75 – 128 bpm

Maximum heart rate

In addition to your resting heart rate, you can also measure your heart rate during exercise. This gives you an idea of how fast your heart beats when it’s working extra hard, and how close it is to your “maximum heart rate” — the highest that your heart rate should ever go. To get your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220.

In this case, lower isn’t necessarily better. During moderate-intensity physical exercise, you should aim to get between 64% and 75% of your maximum heart rate, per the CDC. And during vigorous-intensity exercise, your should be between 77% and 93% of your maximum heart rate.

Your maximum heart rate has to do with how much aerobic capacity your body has. Studies have found that higher aerobic capacity is associated with less likelihood of heart attack and death, Harvard Health reports.

How to measure your heart rate at home

There are a few places on your body where you can feel your pulse. One common and easily accessible location is the radial artery, or your wrist.

Simply put your index and middle finger on the inside of the opposite wrist, and count the number of heartbeats you feel in 15 seconds. Multiply that number by four to get your heart rate in beats per minute. (Start the count on a beat, which is counted as zero.)

The best time to measure your resting heart rate is in the morning when you wake up, while you’re still in bed.

To measure your heart rate during exercise, you’ll have to pause briefly in the middle of exercising to measure your pulse. You can also use a heart rate monitor or fitness tracker, if you have one (the most accurate measurements come from a chest-strap heart rate monitor).

Know the sneaky signs of heart disease

Many people with cardiovascular diseases go undiagnosed until it’s too late. Here are some of the most common symptoms of heart attack, heart disease, heart failure and other urgent cardiovascular health concerns to look out for, courtesy of the Mayo Clinic.

  • Chest pain, tightness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling in the hands, legs, ankles or feet
  • Upper back or back pain
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat (or palpitations)
  • Changes in heart rhythm
  • Weakness or dizziness
  • Numbness in the legs or arms
  • Lightheaded or dizziness
  • Fatigue or weakness during physical activity
  • Heartburn, nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.