The Real Difference Between Heart Rate And Pulse

Taking control of your health necessitates several things. It requires awareness, dedication, and perhaps most of all, knowledge. Not just knowledge of the most effective exercise options for your particular situation, but knowledge of all the terms common to discussions of health and fitness. 

That said, some terms are more familiar than others. PE class and fitness trends allow people to get familiar with words like "set" and "rep." Thus, more people understand exactly what they mean and become comfortable using them in conversations. Not every definition is taught so thoroughly, though. There are many terms that are used rarely — or worse, interchangeably. 

Take "pulse" and "heart rate," for instance. Both are used in seemingly identical situations, yet some define them differently. Polar, for example, defines your pulse specifically as the "mechanical pulse of blood flow through the capillaries caused by the contractions of the heart per minute" while the heart rate is "the number of times per minute that the heart contracts – the number of heart beats per minute." These two definitions seem to set the terms apart. A look through medical sites, however, reveals that the difference between the words isn't as significant as it may seem, at least in the context of everyday use.

They're essentially the same thing

Polar highlights a distinct difference between heart rate and pulse, then recommends the best products to measure each metric. Johns Hopkins, on the other hand, defines the words as more or less the same thing. They define the pulse as "a measurement of the heart rate, or the number of times the heart beats per minute." Like Polar's definitions, Johns Hopkins narrows both definitions down to a count of a heart's beats per minute or bpm. The hospital, however, doesn't establish much of a difference between the two.

The distinction in Polar's definitions likely hinges on the fact that the company sells heart rate tracking equipment. Advanced athletes often want the most accurate measurement possible to ensure they're working in the proper heart rate zone. And while there are measuring devices for both pulse and heart rate, Polar specifies that those designed to directly measure heart rate against a person's chest are more accurate than those designed to work at pulse points.

The Cleveland Clinic and Harvard both define heart rate and pulse as Johns Hopkins does. Ultimately, there is little difference between the two terms. Unless someone is trying to hit a specific target heart rate with razor-liked precision, they can rely on either count and still reach their goals.