Renew You Challenge: Check your heart health in 60 seconds

Got a minute? Then you’ve got time to read the clues your heart is trying to give you.

Lauren Bedosky
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The Renew You Challenge is the newest health and wellness experience from Renew by UnitedHealthcare® to help inspire you to take charge of your well-being every day. Every weekday in October, we’re sharing new ideas to help build up your body, mind and spirit.


Heart disease is the leading killer of both men and women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And while heart disease can strike people at any age, it’s especially important for older adults to keep tabs on their heart health.

“Risk factors for heart disease tend to go up after the age of 65,” says Suzanne Steinbaum, D.O., a national spokesperson for the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign. 

A few risk factors for heart disease, such as obesity, tobacco use and diagnosed type 2 diabetes, are easy to spot, the CDC notes. But other key factors that increase your risk of this deadly disease — such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol — have no symptoms, says Dr. Steinbaum. You may be walking around with these major risk factors and not even know it.

Thankfully, you can get a snapshot of your heart health by doing some simple cardiologist-approved self-checks. Make sure to pair these four quick tests with regular doctor visits to have your blood pressure, along with your cholesterol and sugar levels, thoroughly evaluated. 

Heart Health Check #1: Resting Heart Rate

Measuring your resting heart rate — that is, the number of times per minute your heart beats while you’re at rest — can provide a good gauge of your heart health, Dr. Steinbaum says. 

The higher your resting heart rate, the greater your risk of heart disease — and even early death. One long-term study in the journal Heart found a 16% greater risk of premature death for every 10-beat increase in resting heart rate.

The normal resting heart rate range is 60 to 100 beats per minute (bpm), according to the American Heart Association (AHA). However, a resting rate in the 50s and 60s is ideal, Dr. Steinbaum says.

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To stay on top of your heart health, check your resting heart rate once a week. “Do it in the morning before you get out of bed,” Dr. Steinbaum says. 

Here’s how: Find your pulse by putting your finger on the inside of your wrist or neck. Count the number of beats in 30 seconds. Then double that number to get your beats per minute. If you have a fitness tracker or heart rate monitor, you can also check your resting heart rate with that. 

Heart Health Check #2: How Quickly Your Heart Rate Drops After Exercise

Physical activity plays a huge role in heart health, says Dr. Steinbaum. If exercise is not part of your regular routine, consider that a red flag. 

If you are physically active, you can gauge how well your routine is working by checking your recovery rate — that is, how much time your heart needs to slow back down once your exercise stops. The Framingham Heart Study has linked quick recovery times with lower heart disease risk.

To get an idea of your recovery rate, use a heart rate monitor during your workout. As soon as the workout is over, watch your numbers for one minute. If you don’t have a heart rate monitor, take your pulse for 15 seconds as soon as your workout ends; multiply it by four to get the beats per minute. Then do it again one minute later.

Within one minute of stopping your workout, your heart rate should drop by 25 to 35 bpm for your recovery rate to be within an acceptable range, Dr. Steinbaum says. “But it’s excellent to have a decrease of 50 to 60 bpm, and it should be less than 100 beats per minute,” she adds. 

To help get your heart into better shape, the CDC recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity cardio. That’s a goal you can reach by going for a brisk walk, riding your bike around or swimming some laps a few times each week. 

Heart Health Check #3: Waist Size

Another good heart health check is to measure your waist circumference. “Carrying extra weight around your midsection is associated with a greater risk of heart disease,” Dr. Steinbaum says. 

Grab a tape measure and wrap it around your natural waist (the narrowest point between the bottom of your rib cage and just above the hip bones). Make sure the tape is straight all the way around, sits flat on your skin (not your shirt), and is snug but doesn’t dig in. Breathe normally and check the tape after you exhale.

If you’re a woman and your waist exceeds 35 inches (40 inches if you’re a man), you have an increased risk of heart disease, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.


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Heart Health Check #4: Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a major heart disease risk factor. Most people have no symptoms, so the only way to find out if your blood pressure is too high is by checking the numbers.

But you don’t have to wait for a doctor’s appointment to keep tabs on your blood pressure — these days, there are ways to check it on your own. During your next pharmacy visit, place your arm in a blood pressure cuff to get a quick reading. “There are also home blood pressure cuffs you can get,” says Dr. Steinbaum.

If your blood pressure numbers are under 120/80, you’re within the normal range. However, if your readings range from 120–129 systolic (first number) and under 80 diastolic (second number), your blood pressure is elevated. This will likely turn into high blood pressure unless you do something to prevent it, the AHA cautions.

If you have elevated blood pressure or your readings fall within any of the following ranges, make an appointment to see your doctor.

  • High blood pressure (hypertension) Stage 1: 130–139 systolic or 80–89 diastolic
  • High blood pressure (hypertension) Stage 2: 140/90 or higher

Contact your doctor immediately if your readings exceed 180/120. If you’re also experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness or weakness, change in vision or trouble speaking, call 911.

Catch up with the Renew You Challenge: 

Download your Renew You Challenge calendar here

Day 1: Strengthen Your Core

Day 2: Eat More Real Food Today

Day 3: Do These 6 Important Health Checks

Day 4: Help Your Hips

Day 5: Reframe a Negative Thought

Day 6: Help Improve Your Posture

Day 7: Create a Wish List