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In a Heartbeat

Students get in touch with the most important muscle of all—the heart—learning to take their pulse after exercise.

Tags: elementary school, pacing

Objectives Students learn how to take their pulse and how different running speeds affect their heart rates.
Standards National Standards for Physical Education (NASPE)
Standards 1
New York State Education Department (NYSED)
Standard 1
Time Required 20 minutes
Materials Stopwatch or watch with a second hand, paper and pen, cones or other markers


Prepare for the Activity

Establish a running course of 100 meters, using cones or other markers to identify the course.


Introduce the activity

  • Name the activity, and tell the students that it is all about their heartbeats.
  • Say something like, “Your heart is a muscle just like the muscles in your arms and legs. Your heart pumps blood and oxygen all around your body, which helps all of your muscles work, so it’s really important to keep it in good working order. When you run, your muscles need more blood and oxygen to keep going, so your heart has to work harder. You can feel your heart working—sometimes you can feel it beating in your chest, or you can feel your pulse in different places, like at your wrist or on your neck. That pulse happens as your heart pumps blood through your body. Your heartbeat, or pulse, will go faster or slower, depending on how hard you are working your body. When you walk, it beats slower. When you run, it beats faster.”
  • Explain that they will be taking their pulse four times: at rest, after walking briskly, after jogging, and after running hard.
  • Using two fingers demonstrate two different places to find your pulse. One place to find it is on the artery at the top of your neck and just under your jaw. Another is on the inside of your wrist, just below your thumb.

Conduct the activity

  1. While students are standing at rest, have them find their pulse. Once they all have their pulse, tell them to start counting. Time them for 15 seconds, have them give you their totals, and multiply them by four to get their heart rates. Record their heart rates, and read them aloud. (If you want to make it easier, count for 6 seconds and add a zero to the count—so, if a student counted eight beats, her pulse would be 80. Or have them count for 30 seconds, and multiply their total by two.)
  2. Then have them walk briskly for 100 meters, and take their pulse again (immediately after they finish walking). Calculate and record the rates, and read them aloud.
  3. Then have them jog 100 meters and record their heart rates immediately after. Again, record the rates and read them aloud.
  4. Have them run 100 meters at a hard pace. Record their heart rates immediately after and read the rates aloud.

Assess the Students

What to watch for:

  • Students using different levels of effort. (Jogging should take more effort than walking and running should be at a significantly increased level of effort)
  • Students checking for their pulse in the right place. Help students who are having trouble finding it.

Direction cues to share with students:

  • “Flex your wrist back.” (For students who are having trouble finding their pulse. Flexing the wrist helps to better expose the radial artery.)
  • “Keep your body still and feel for the beat!” (To help students focus on finding their pulses)
  • “Let’s pick it up!” (Directed at students who are going too slowly on their jog)
  • “Slow it down!” (For students whose jog is closer to a run)
  • “Run as hard as you can!” (For students who are not expending maximum effort during the run)

Note: Only give a student one direction at a time.


When you've completed In a Heartbeat, talk to your students about their experience with the activity. Here are some sample questions to get you started:

  • Why do you think your pulse was slowest when you were just standing still? (Because your muscles are not working as hard as when you are active, and they don't need as much energy so the heart doesn't have to pump as hard or as fast)
  • Did your heartbeat get faster and faster as you went faster? Why do you think it did? (Because your leg muscles use more energy to go fast. That energy comes from the blood and oxygen that the heart supplies. So when your leg muscles work harder, your heart has to work harder to supply blood faster.)
  • Can you tell how hard you are running based on your heart rate? (Yes. The faster it is, the harder you are exercising. You can also use your heart rate to tell if you have recovered because it should be slow again.)
  • Is it good or bad to make your heart beat fast? (It's good! Exercise is good for your body! You also need rest, but it is good to get your heart beating fast a few times every day!)


  • Split the students into four-person teams before the final event, the hard run. Have each student guess his or her pulse for that event. Record their guesses. Then record their pulses, and have the winning team—the team whose guesses were closest to their aggregate pulse count—take a “victory lap.” (Or you could do this individually, without breaking the students into teams.)
  • About 1-2 minutes after the hard run, have the students take their pulse again. It should have slowed down considerably. 
  • Younger students may have a hard time finding their pulse, have them put their hand over their heart and count.
  • If you don't have enough space to set up a 100m course, time the runs, varying the amount of time and effort to see what happens to their pulse.
  • With larger class sizes break down the students into smaller groups, while one group is running the other is resting or stretching to get prepared for their run.

Inclusion Strategies

Classrooms are filled with learners who demonstrate a variety of needs and abilities, including ESL students, those with disabilities, and gifted/talented students. Consider these adaptations as you work to modify the lesson for student success.

  • Once you find your own pulse on your wrist have the students count your beats if they cannot find their own.
  • Have graphs and charts on where to place their fingers.
  • Have the students pair up and try to find each other’s pulse.
  • Show them different areas where they can check their pulse; some places are easier than others.
  • Use a balloon to demonstrate how the heart pumps and that each pump is a beat. Allow students to feel the balloon so they know what they are looking for.
  • Find the students’ pulses and physically place their hands there and count with them.

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