Like HRV and VO2 max, heart rate recovery is a lesser-known health metric that’s tracked by Apple Watch. Follow along for how to see your Apple Watch heart rate recovery data, why it’s valuable, what good heart rate recovery numbers look like, and some tips on improving it.
What is heart rate recovery and why is it important?
Heart rate recovery measures how much your heart rate decreases immediately after exercise. Like heart rate variability, heart rate recovery (HRR) offers a look at your heart health by how fast it responds to the autonomic nervous system.
MedPage Today explains HRR like this:
Measures of that activity reflect the balance between the sympathetic nervous system (which activates fight and flight responses) and the parasympathetic nervous system (which activates ‘rest and digest’ activities) and have been shown to be powerful predictors of mortality.
Abnormally low HRR was found as a predictor of individuals being twice as likely to die within six years in one of the most cited studies – referenced over 1,000 times – from Cole, Blackstone, Pashkow, Snader, and Lauer.
What are good heart rate recovery numbers?
More recent studies validating the Cole et al. findings show that HRR of 13 or greater (meaning a drop of 13 bpm or more) after 1 minute, or 22 or greater after two minutes is in the normal/healthy range.
However, keep in mind, that to most accurately test heart rate recovery you’ll want to stop your Apple Watch workout recording right after your workout. For example, if you leave your workout running after you finish, stretch, sit down, relax, and then end the workout, you’ll see low HRR numbers since Apple Watch isn’t comparing the peak heart rate or near peak heart rate to your 1-minute and 2-minute post-exercise heart rate.
Similarly, workouts that include a cooldown will also skew HRR numbers. And third-party apps that support starting workouts on Apple Watch like Peloton etc. may also end workouts before the wearable is able to measure the heart rate recovery. In these cases, heart rate recovery numbers will not appear on Apple Watch or iPhone.
Don’t worry if you notice low HRR here and there and these numbers can vary depending on your age among other factors. But if you consistently see yourself below the above numbers and are stopping Apple Watch workouts right after finishing, it may be worth checking in with your doctor about it.
One more note, a 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association concluded that heart rate recovery measured just 10 seconds after exercise may be more accurate at predicting mortality but Apple Watch sticks with the more traditional 1 and 2-minute approach.
Apple Watch heart rate recovery: How to track and view
Apple Watch will automatically track your heart rate recovery. This happens when you end your exercise tracking so make sure to leave your wearable on for three minutes afterward (per Apple).
To view your HRR data:
- On Apple Watch, head to the Heart Rate app
- Swipe or scroll to the bottom
- As long as you have a workout recorded for the day, you should see a Recovery section
- Tap it to see details
- Heart rate recovery shows how much your heart rate decreased both 1 and 2 minutes after your workout
- Keep in mind you’ll need to leave your Apple Watch on after workouts for the HRR reading to be measured
- To see HRR data from previous days, you’ll need to head to your iPhone, follow along below
- To see Apple Watch heart rate recovery data for previous workouts, head to the Fitness app on iPhone
- Choose the Summary tab at the bottom
- Tap a recent workout from the main screen or tap your Activity rings > choose a day > swipe to the bottom to find your workout(s)
- Find your heart rate data near the bottom > swipe from left to right to see your HRR
Interestingly, Apple doesn’t include the heart rate recovery data in the Health app under the heart section.
How to improve heart rate recovery?
There are a number of ways to improve heart rate recovery. Wearable maker Whoop has shared this list of tips to improve the responsiveness between your heart and autonomic nervous system:
- Quality sleep
- Stay hydrated
- Eat a nutritious diet
- Practice meditation or breathwork
- Reduce stress
- Avoid alcohol
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