female doctor checking a person's pulse
George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Pulse rate and respiration rate are part of a group of tests known as vital signs, which are an indicator of your body’s overall functioning. Pulse rate and respiration rate specifically can indicate how well your heart and lungs are working. While the typical ranges may vary based on age, health status and activity level, knowing how to measure these vital signs in other individuals can help determine whether they may need to seek medical attention. When at rest, a person’s pulse should typically be between 60 and 80 beats per minute, according to the Cleveland Clinic. A typical respiratory rate at rest should be between 12 and 20 breaths per minute. Always contact a medical provider if you are concerned a person’s vital signs may be abnormal.

Stand or sit facing the person whose pulse rate and respiration rate you are to measure.

Select a site to measure the pulse. The two chief options are on the person’s wrist, just below the thumb, or on the neck, on either side of the person’s windpipe.

Press your index and middle finger gently to the area you selected to take the pulse. You may have to move your fingers around slightly to locate the pulse. Hold your position when you feel small, pulsating movements under your fingertips. Holding your fingertips flat against the person's skin can help obtain a more effective measurement.

Use a stopwatch or wristwatch to count how many beats you feel the pulse move against your fingers. If the pulse rhythm seems to be regular, count the number for 15 seconds and multiply this number by four to obtain the pulse in beats per minute. However, if the pulse rhythm seems to be uneven, count the number of beats for a full minute to determine pulse rate.

Count the number of breaths you see the person take within a 15-second time span and multiply the number by four. This is the respiratory rate for the person. You should not take your fingers off the person’s pulse because announcing you are measuring respiration rate may cause the person to alter his breathing rate. By counting the number of breaths taken along with measuring pulse, you can determine both vital signs.

Record the numbers you have obtained and re-check them as needed.


If you are having difficulty counting the number of breaths a person takes, try counting the number of times you see the chest visibly rise, according to the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics. This may give you a better visual account of breaths taken than watching a person’s mouth.