New health features in watchOS 9 and iOS 16 include something Apple is calling Cardio Recovery. Follow us for an in-depth look at what the feature is, how to track it with the Apple Watch, why it’s valuable, what good cardio recovery numbers are, and how to improve them.
As it turns out, Cardio Recovery was something previously available on the Apple Watch under the widely used term “heart rate recovery.” With watchOS 9 and iOS 16, Apple renamed the feature Cardio Recovery — possibly to match its Cardio Fitness (VO2 max) metric in the Health app. Notably, the feature didn’t previously appear in the Health app — only the Fitness app — but it was added with iOS 16.
Like HRV and VO2 max, cardio recovery, or heart rate recovery, is a lesser-known health metric measured by the Apple Watch every time you track a workout. Whether you’ve never used the feature before or are curious why it’s valuable, how to make sure you’re getting accurate readings, or how to improve yours, read on 😁.
What is cardio recovery and why is it important?
Cardio Recovery measures how much your heart rate drops immediately after your workout. As with heart rate variability, heart rate recovery (HRR) provides insight into your heart health by showing how quickly it responds to the autonomic nervous system.
MedPage Today explains HRR as follows:
Measurements of this activity reflect the balance between the sympathetic nervous system (which activates fight and flight responses) and the parasympathetic nervous system (which activates “rest and digest” activities) and have been shown to be strong predictors of mortality.
In one of the most-cited studies by Cole, Blackstone, Pashkow, Snader, and Lauer — referenced over 1,000 times — it was found that an abnormally low HRR is a predictor that within six years, individuals will have double that probability die.
What Are Good Cardio Recovery Numbers?
Recent studies using the Cole et al. Results show that cardio recovery or heart rate recovery 13 or greaterr (indicating a drop of 13 bpm or more) after 1 minuteor 22 or more after two minutes is in the normal/healthy range.
However, remember that you should stop your Apple Watch exercise recording right after your workout to test heart rate recovery as accurately as possible. For example, if you run your workout after you finish it, stretch, sit, relax, and then stop the workout, you’ll see low HRR readings because the Apple Watch doesn’t compare your workout heart rate to your 1-minute heart rate 2- Minute heart rate after exercise.
Likewise, workouts that include a cooldown will skew HRR values. And third-party apps that support starting workouts on the Apple Watch, like Peloton, etc., can also end workouts before the wearable is able to measure heart-rate recovery. In these cases, heart rate recovery numbers will not appear on the Apple Watch or iPhone.
Don’t worry if you notice a low HRR here and there, and these numbers can vary depending on your age, among other things. However, if you’re constantly seeing yourself below the above numbers and stop Apple Watch workouts right after you’ve finished your workout, it may be worth seeing your doctor.
Another note: A 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association concluded that heart rate recovery, measured just 10 seconds after exercise, may be more accurate in predicting mortality, but the Apple Watch sticks to the more traditional 1 and 2 minute approach.
Apple Watch Cardio Recovery: How to Track and View
The Apple Watch automatically tracks your cardio recovery (heart rate recovery). This happens when you stop your exercise recording, so make sure you leave your wearable on for three minutes afterward (per Apple).
To view your data (Heart Rate Recovery in iOS 15/watchOS 8 and earlier and Heart Rate Recovery in iOS 16/watchOS 9):
- On the Apple Watch, go to heart rate app
- Swipe or scroll down
- As long as you have a workout recorded for the day, you should see a Restoration section in watchOS 8, labeled post workout on watchOS9
- Tap on it to see details
- Cardio/Heart Rate Recovery shows how much your heart rate dropped both 1 and 2 minutes after your workout
- Keep in mind that you must leave your Apple Watch on after your workout for HRR to be measured
- To view data from previous days you need to go to your iPhone, follow the instructions below
In the Health app (iOS 16 only)
- In iOS 16 go to Health app on iPhone
- Select the Browse tab bottom right
- Now tap heart
- Seek cardio recovery
- Now you can see all the data you have collected using the Apple Watch. Tap the D/W/M/6M/Y tabs at the top to view different time frames
option 2 – iOS 16, 15 and earlier
- To view Apple Watch cardio/heart rate recovery data for past workouts, go to Fitness app on iPhone
- Select the Summary tab at the bottom
- Tap a last workout from the main screen or tap yours activity rings > choose a day > swipe down to find your training session(s).
- Find your heart rate data below > swipe left to right to see your cardio/heart rate recovery
Interestingly, Apple doesn’t include the cardio/heart rate recovery data in the Health app under the Heart section in iOS 15 and earlier.
How to improve cardio recovery?
There are a number of ways to improve cardio recovery (heart rate recovery). Wearables maker Whoop shared this list of tips to improve responsiveness between your heart and autonomic nervous system:
- sleep quality
- drink enough
- Eat a nutritious diet
- Practice meditation or breathwork
- reduce stress
- Avoid alcohol
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