How do I check my pulse?

You can check your pulse by counting how many times your heart beats in a minute. This is also known as your heart rate.

Your heart rate can vary depending on what you're doing. For example, it will be slower if you're sleeping and faster if you're exercising.

Finding your pulse 

You can find your pulse in places where an artery passes close to your skin, such as your wrist or neck.

To find your pulse in your wrist:

  • hold out one of your hands, with your palm facing upwards and your elbow slightly bent 
  • put the first finger (index) and middle finger of your other hand on the inside of your wrist, at the base of your thumb
  • press your skin lightly until you can feel your pulse – if you can't feel anything, you may need to press a little harder or move your fingers around

To find your pulse in your neck, press the same two fingers on the side of your neck in the soft hollow area just beside your windpipe.

Checking your pulse

When you find your pulse:

  • count the number of beats you feel for one full minute, or
  • count the number for 30 seconds and multiply by two

The figure you get is the number of times per minute your heart is beating. It's known as your resting heart rate, as long as you've been resting for at least five minutes before checking your pulse.

You can also check if your pulse is regular or irregular by feeling its rhythm for about 20-30 seconds. Occasional irregular heartbeats, such as missed beats, are very common. However, if your pulse is irregular for a continued length of time, it can be a sign of atrial fibrillation (a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate). This becomes more common as you get older and affects about 10% of people over 75.

If you're concerned about your pulse, see your GP.

What's a normal heart rate?

Most adults have a resting heart rate of 60-100 beats per minute (bpm).

The fitter you are, the lower your resting heart rate is likely to be. For example, athletes may have a resting heart rate of 40-60 bpm or lower.

You should contact your GP if you think your heart rate is continuously above 120 bpm or below 40 bpm, although this could just be normal for you.

Exercise and your pulse

If you check your pulse while you're exercising or immediately afterwards, it may give you an indication of your fitness level. A heart rate monitor is also useful for recording your heart rate when resting and during exercise.

Aerobic activities such as walking, running and swimming are good types of exercise because they increase your heart and breathing rates.

If you haven't exercised before, or haven't for some time, see the NHS Live Well section to find out about the benefits of exercise and how much exercise you should be doing.

Read the answers to more questions about exercise.

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 23/03/2013

Next review due: 22/03/2015