Skip to main content
February 22, 2019

What your heart rate can teach the government

The way to find out your heart rate is to take your pulse. There are three areas where you pulse can be easily heard or felt - the chest, the neck and wrist.

Doctors use a stethoscope applied to the chest wall to listen to your heartbeat. On both sides of your neck just lateral to the muscle that turns the head from side to side is the carotid artery, which supplies blood to the brain. Given that it is a big blood vessel the beat of the heart is easy to feel, though people get a little anxious when someone puts there hands around their neck.

The wrist is the easiest, the radial artery supplying blood to the hand and fingers runs just inside the base of the thumb. Using your index and middle finger of the other hand, not the thumb that would press too hard, you can by pressing lightly feel the pulse. Using a clock that counts seconds you can either count the number of beats for a full minute or for 30 seconds and multiply by two, to get the heart beat per minute.

A normal heart rate depends on various factors including genetics, age, body size, sex, level of fitness and whether the person is lying down, standing, exercising and their emotional state. For an adult the average resting is given at 72 beats per minute, but the lower it is, generally the healthier you are. Top athletes have rates in the range 40- 60 bpm.


A resting rate of above 100 bpm without an immediate obvious cause such as a really big cockroach appearing in the sitting room usually is a warning that something is wrong. The only exception to this rule is a baby less than one year old where the resting pulse rate ranges from 80-160bpm. Under normal conditions you do not hear your heart beating. When you do then you are having heart palpitations. Palpitations can either feel like your heart is beating irregularly, it is fluttering or it is pounding.

In most cases palpitations are harmless but if accompanied by other symptoms chest pain or dizziness then there might be a problem that necessitates a visit to the doctor. Palpitations can be caused by a release of the hormone adrenaline, which occurs when you feel excited, anxious or nervous, the so called ‘flight response’. Some chemicals such as caffeine, alcohol, and recreational drugs can also trigger palpitations. Pregnancy can also lead to palpitations as the mother’s system responds to the needs of the growing foetus.

Some people get panic attacks where what would otherwise be a fairly restrained response by normal people is met with an overwhelming sense of apprehension, anxiety and fear leading to sweating, trembling and palpitations.

There are other situations where the heart does not beat normally especially when there is an underlying illness in the body. Low iron, low blood sugar levels, dehydration, a high fever and a hyperactive thyroid gland cause the heart to beat faster. The important lesson here is that unless you deliberately want to measure your heart rate it should be working efficiently and quietly in the background pumping blood around the body 24/7.

In a way your heart is like what ideal government should be, an institution working in the background to enable your life to go on but responsive to your needs. Under resting conditions the heart requires about 250 ml of blood per minute. This is about 5% of all the blood that it pumps per minute.

Given that the oxygen concentration in the arteries does not change much, when more oxygen is required for example during exercise the heart has to beat faster. A well functioning heart can respond to emergency by increasing the amount of oxygen being delivered five-fold.

Compare that with government; in 1960 government was about 11% of the gross domestic product (GDP). It has been growing steadily through the years and today with Kenya at 50 years, the proportion of national expenditure contributed by government is about twice that at independence.

Unlike the heart, governments of today promise utopia try to do everything but success is modest. Given the amount of ‘oxygen’ government consumes, it is no wonder the Kenya population starts to feel palpitations a lot of the time.

They can see that much of government does not do any exercise at all. Moderately intensive exercise generates the best benefits to the heart and reduces the risks of cardiac disease making the heart better able to respond in times of need. Will we ever get a fit government? Or will it continue to grow flabby consuming ever more blood and oxygen?

A solution is to start taking the pulse more regularly prod government to exercise more. For a 50-year-old the recommended target heart rate during exercise is 50 to 70 percent of his or her maximum heart rate, which equates to a range of 85 to 119 bpm, attainable during a brisk walk for about 30 minutes several times a week.

Poll of the day