What’s Your Recovery Heart Rate?

Charts and tables explaining how to calculate a target heart rate for exercise abound. In fact there’s so much information it can be downright confusing (hence my blog post, How To Set A SIMPLE Heart Rate Goal.)

But there’s very little information about another interesting heart rate goal: Recovery Heart Rate.

Which is unfortunate because it’s a pretty useful measure.  Lots of people have trouble starting and staying with an exercise program, and Recovery Heart Rate actually shows your progress – which could be very motivating.  In their online article, What You Should Know About Your Heart Rate or Pulse, NEMAhealth.org explains, “One way to determine if you are reaping the benefits from exercise is to calculate your Recovery Heart Rate, a measure of how quickly you return to your resting heart rate after a workout.”

And it’s easy to do.  The article goes on to explain that to calculate recovery heart rate, follow these steps: 

1. Take your pulse ten seconds immediately after you have finished exercising. Write down the number.

2. One minute later, take your pulse again and write it down.

3. Subtract the number for the second pulse check from the number for the first pulse check. This number is your Recovery Heart Rate. The greater the number, the better shape you are in!

Simple, right?

Yes.  Except for the fact that in some articles, the directions are to take your pulse/note heart rate on your heart rate monitor 1 minute post exercising, while other articles say 2 minutes.


I don’t love that ambiguity.  But I can deal with it because there’s a bigger problem, IMHO.  For me, the larger issue is that I… um… want a goal.  I want to know how much my heart rate SHOULD go down (after 1 minute….and/or 2 minutes) to indicate that I am: a) pretty fit, and  b) getting fitter with increased exercise.

I don’t feel like that’s a lot to ask.  And yet, it is.  Because nowhere could I find a target.

What I did find is a study the American Heart Association published in 2001 that showed that if your recovery heart rate is <=18 beats lower than it was when exercising, that is indicative of poor heart health (and, um, predictive of higher death rate. Not kidding.)

Then I read Heart Rate Recovery Can Be Improved with Exercise from The Cleveland Clinic, which said after 2 minutes, heart rate must go down at least 12 beats per minute to be in good heart health.

Um – those don’t jive.

The conclusion: if you have cardiac issues, your cardiologist will know what to do about this 18 beats after 1 minute vs 12 beats after 2 minutes conundrum.  If your Recovery Heart Rate after 1 or 2 minutes is in the 12-18 beat range, you should probably check in with a cardiologist.

Which brings me to the other end of the spectrum.  The question I’m wondering about is this: if you are already exercising to keep your cholesterol in check, how can you use Heart Rate Recovery to gauge progress?

On a site called EnduranceCorner, Dr. Larry Cresswell states that a drop in heart rate of 15-20 beats per minute is ‘normal’  (and less than 12 would be ‘unfavorable.’)  And WebMD’s Researchers Find Heart Rate Worth a Thousand Words also posits that a ‘normal’ heart rate recovery is a decrease in beats of 15-25 beats after one minute.

Absent any other way to set a goal, I’ve decided to set my own personal goal of a drop of at least 25  beats, 1 minute after stopping after exercising at my maximum heart rate level.  It’s really easy to do this in a spin class – I try to ramp my heart rate up to my (personal) max of 154-ish during a song… then after that song ends, I note the time and heart rate on my heart rate monitor, then sit and pedal slowly (and gulp water) and watch my heart rate after 30 seconds and 1 minute.

The thirty seconds part I just made up.  It just keeps me occupied.  Interestingly, my heart rate remains kind of near the max even after 30 seconds.  But this week – after several weeks of intense spin training for my upcoming European bike trip (!) – I noticed that  my resting heart rate after 1 minute was consistently 30 beats less than maximum.  And that’s a pretty big improvement vs the typical 20-25 it had been when I was spinning just once a week.

Now that’s the kind of progress I need to keep spinning twice or three times a week.

That, and the fact that in just a few weeks, I’ll be spending 5 days in a row riding up the rolling hills of Croatia!


Outrageously Delicious Meatballs with Spiced Tomato Sauce

I don’t do meatballs.  Don’t like to eat them.  Don’t ever, ever, ever make them (plunking my hands into a bowl full of cold raw meat is, well, do I really need to elaborate?)

Color me not-meatball girl.

Which is why it was so surprising that I found (and actually tried!) a recipe for what turned out to be outrageously delicious meatballs.

Sam Sifton’s recent New York Times article, Comfort Food Grows Up, was so interesting that I decided to actually make homemade his turkey meatballs.  I’m not sure if what grabbed me was the description: “vaguely North African tomato sauce zipped up with orange juice and warm spices, then toped with feta and mint.”  Or that Mr. Sifton said his kids beg him to make these meatballs. Or the promise of a short cook time: “you can cook it in an hour’s time, not all of it spent working.” (Which, by the way, was a BIG FAT LIE – unless, I guess, you’re a professional/near-professional chef.)

Probably all three (aren’t you intrigued now too?)  Check out the article: the recipe is from a chef called Suzanne Goin — it’s a dish she’s served at her LA restaurant A.O.C. and modified for the menu of a West Hollywood charter school’s “Edible Schoolyard” program.

TurkeyMeatballSpicedTomSauce_TrayIn any case, I made a tray of 20 of these turkey meatballs. Though not pretty — this is not a fancy-dinner-party dish — this tray of meatballs was, without a doubt, the absolute best dish I have ever made.  Ever.

I wasn’t going to make the sauce – but you must.  As you can see in this photo, the meatballs, after you sear them in a broiler (or stovetop) bake in the sauce — and it’s the sauce, I think, that really makes this dish. Don’t use jar sauce (and this from someone who always uses jar sauce).  Make this sauce – it’s easy to make — and the cumin, cinnamon, orange juice and zest make it both unusual and insanely delicious.

TurkeyMeatballSpicedTomSauce_ServedAs the article (but not the recipe!) suggests, I served them over pasta ‘slicked with olive oil’ the night I made them.  For leftovers, I then ate these meatballs over the pasta every meal thereafter. For four days in a row. Michael chose to vary things up for each leftover meal: twice he had these on a bulkie roll and twice he enjoyed them warmed up next to a side salad. FYI: the recipe says you can serve it with pita or bulgur or couscous.

Basically, these were so good you could serve them with just about anything.

Here’s s link to the recipe: Lamb Turkey Meatballs with Spiced Tomato Sauce.  A PDF version is on the Lo-Co recipe page.

And here are a few pointers, from my experience:

  • First and foremost, I can’t imagine how anyone other than a chef could prepare these in 1 hour. Allot at least 1 1/2 hours  — or 2 to be really safe.
  • To that end, I used already-diced onions to cut down prep (and cry) time. Though truth-be-told, I didn’t read the recipe closely enough – you need diced onion for both the meatballs and the sauce so make sure you buy enough!
  • For lowest cholesterol, I used turkey – and they were fabulous.  Am sure that lamb or turkey and pork combo as per the article would be equally fantastic.
  • Do follow Sam Sifton’s suggestion to run these under the broiler rather than searing on a stovetop – it’s far less mess/cleanup. I had also never once used a broiler (!) and it was easy.  That said, his directions weren’t clear about how long to cook in that broiler – it says 5-7 minutes, turning once or twice.  I turned them ONCE only, and did 6-7 minutes PER SIDE.
  •  I had trouble judging how big to make the meatballs, and ended up making them probably a bit bigger than his “a little larger than golf balls” (inane, IMHO) direction. Basically, I made them bigger so they’d fit in my Pyrex 9×12 baking dish!
  •  A 3 inch strip of orange peel was not easy – be sure you either have a tool for this (I could not find mine – nor can I remember it’s name!) or leave yourself time.
  • The feta cheese is vital – the mint not so much, IMHO.  OK, fine. I’ll fess up: I forgot to buy mint.  Didn’t matter – though if you love mint, am sure it’d be great.
  • I usually like a lot of sauce and was concerned this didn’t make a big vat of sauce.  No matter – atop pasta ‘slicked with olive oil’ and just a few tablespoons of sauce, it was plenty flavorful.

I plan to input this recipe into My Fitness Pal to find out it’s nutritional value, but even without that, give this one a whirl. You (and your family) will be glad you did.