Distance Running and Low Pulse Rate

Sports woman running outdoors

You can chalk up a wide range of health benefits to regular exercise like distance running, and one key measure of those benefits is your resting heart rate, or pulse. With regular running, you can lower your resting heart rate by five to 25 beats per minute because as your heart gets stronger it's able to pump more blood with each contraction. What’s more, your circulatory system, such as the tiny capillaries that deliver blood oxygen to your muscles, become more extensive. Because you work hard during your distance runs, you don’t have to work as hard when you’re at rest. It’s a well-deserved trade-off.

Running and Heart Rate

Aerobic exercise is any activity that incorporates large muscle groups in a rhythmic activity that elevates the heart rate for a sustained period. Distance running typically involves elevating your heart rate to a point that is between 50 percent and 75 percent of your maximum heart rate -- an aerobic zone where you can comfortably supply your working muscles with oxygen and energy for an extended period of time. This type of exercise burns body fat, strengthens muscles and bones, and improves the function of your heart and lungs. Your heart rate typically remains elevated after you finish running but then settles into a lower pulse rate.

Advantages of a Slow Pulse

According to experts at the University of New Mexico, a low pulse rate at rest gives your heart’s ventricles more time to fill with blood and more time for oxygen and nutrients to be delivered to your body and heart muscle. While running regularly makes your heart better equipped to deliver oxygen and energy to your working muscles, your low pulse rate makes your heart more efficient at meeting your body’s circulatory needs when you are at rest.

The average heart rate for a resting person is 60 to 80 beats per minute. A distance runner’s pulse seems to decline with greater distance. In a Journal of the American College of Cardiology study of women in their late 20s, researchers found that those who ran about 60 miles a week had a mean resting heart rate of 45 beats per minute while women who ran 36 miles per week had a mean pulse rate of 53 beats per minute. A third group of sedentary women had a resting pulse of 77 beats per minute.

Measuring Your Pulse Rate

The best time to take your resting heart rate is first thing in the morning before you get out of bed. Place your first two fingers on your neck next to your Adam’s apple and find your pulse and then count how many beats you feel in a minute. If your pulse seems unnaturally high, it could mean that you have been training too hard and need to take a day off from distance running. Swimming or riding a bike for a day might give your body a chance to recover from the rigors of distance running.