A person's pulse is the frequency of his heartbeat, usually measured in beats per minute. As the heart pumps blood, the body's primary artery, the aorta, expands and contracts rhythmically along with the heartbeat. These arterial contractions happen throughout the body, also at the same pace at the heartbeat. A person's pulse can be measured at any place where an artery is close enough to the skin for these contractions to be felt. The most common place for a person to measure his own pulse is just below the wrist on the palm side.
To check a pulse, the first two fingers are placed on the inside of the wrist just below the base of the thumb. If you're inexperienced at taking your pulse, feel around a little until you notice where the pulse is. Looking at a clock or watch with a second hand, count how many beats you feel in ten seconds, and multiply the result by six, to obtain a number of beats per minute. If desired, feel your pulse for a full 60 seconds to get what may be a slightly more accurate number.
One of the most important things to remember when taking your pulse is to use your index and middle fingers, rather than your thumb. The reason for this is that the thumb has its own pulse, so when someone feels his pulse using his thumb, the result will be a falsely elevated number that can be very misleading. A person's normal or optimal heart rate depends mainly on his age. Newborns and infants usually have resting heart rates anywhere from 120-140 beats per minute. Children 15 years of age and younger normally have a pulse of 70-100 beats per minute, while adults generally have a resting heart rate of 60-100 beats per minute.
During strenuous exercise, a person may want to focus on reaching his target heart rate, at which the most cardiovascular benefits can be gained. A person's target heart rate is defined as about 60-80% of his predicted maximum heart rate, or the fastest pulse the heart can produce. Predicted maximum heart rate is calculated as 220 minus your age. By this, the maximum heart rate of a 25-year-old would be 195. Raising your heart rate above 85% of this maximum rate is not shown to have any real benefit, and can be risky, especially for someone who is elderly or who suffers from a cardiovascular condition.