By Dr Mercola
What does your resting heart rate say about your level of fitness and health? Your resting heart rate is one factor used to identify potential health problems and gauge the health of your heart. Dr. Jason Wasfy from Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center, affiliated with Harvard University, commented on what your resting heart rate says about your cardiovascular health:1
“In certain cases, a lower resting heart rate can mean a higher degree of physical fitness, which is associated with reduced rates of cardiac events like heart attacks. However, a high resting heart rate could be a sign of an increased risk of cardiac risk in some situations, as the more beats your heart has to take eventually takes a toll on its overall function.”
Complications associated with a high heart rate include low energy levels, weakness, lightheadedness, dizziness and fainting.2 A high resting heart rate may be associated with chest pain, difficulty breathing, poor circulation, weakness and cardiovascular events such as heart failure, heart attack or stroke.
If you experience a spike in your heart rate when you’re not active, it might be an indication you are dehydrated, have a fever, are stressed or that you’ve consumed too many caffeinated drinks. Your heart rate is useful in determining your overall health and well-being.
As I’ve talked about before, tracking your heart rate does not mean you have to keep your finger to your wrist. Current fitness trackers offer the ability to keep tabs of your resting rate throughout the day, as well as your sleep habits and a number of other health variables.
What Does a Resting Heart Rate Mean?
While exercising, your heart rate is an indication of the demand being placed on your cardiovascular system and how hard it has to work to meet those demands. Simply put, your resting heart rate measures how many times your heart beats per minute (bpm) while you are at rest.
While 60 to 100 bpm is a normal range, cardiologist Dr. Nieca Goldberg of NYU Langone Health considers 60 to 80 bpm optimal.3 In one 10-year study4 measuring resting heart rate, researchers found that those with 70 bpm or less had a reduced risk of death compared to those with 70 to 85 bpm.5
The best time to check is first thing in the morning since a change in activity level, body position and hydration all affect the measurement. Other factors that may influence the rate include genetics, aging, exercise and medications.
Check your resting heart rate several times each week to watch for trends and consider using the six ways I list below for lowering your resting heart rate, thus reducing your potential risk of a cardiovascular event.
Cardiovascular Fitness Reduces Your Heart Rate
Your heart is a muscle, and like all muscles, when a healthy demand is placed on the muscle it grows stronger. Exercise is the best way to do this.6 When you walk, swim or bicycle, your heart beats faster and stays elevated for a short time afterward.
There are several fun ways to fit a workout into your weekly routine, especially if you don’t want to go to the gym. Rock climbing, dancing, walking briskly outdoors, bicycling and incorporating the nitric oxide dump are all effective ways to exercise.
It is crucial you don’t overlook doing strength training. If you don’t have hours in your day to do strength training and cardiovascular work, you can incorporate both at home using just your body weight. In this video, personal trainer Jill Rodriguez demonstrates some simple exercises you can use at home to build strength and get your heart pumping.
Reduce Stress and Anxiety to Affect Your Heart Rate
Stress and anxiety place unhealthy demands on your cardiovascular system. Chronic stress is linked with a negative impact on your heart health. There are several ways to relieve stress. Walking outdoors in green areas may be soothing. Sleeping with a weighted blanket may help you relax and fall asleep more quickly.
Deep breathing exercises may help lower your resting heart rate and meditation can help reduce stress. Yoga is an ancient form of exercise incorporating some of these strategies, including breathing techniques, meditation and stretching.
Yoga is useful to runners and swimmers because it helps improve performance and prevent injuries. Although Pilates and yoga are aimed at improving mind and body, they have some distinct differences.
For instance, while Pilates focuses on the connection between mind and body, yoga has a spirituality factor. Pilates focuses on core strength while yoga is centered on flexibility and balance. Tai Chi is a third option that helps improve balance, strength and flexibility. Benefits of Tai Chi include improved cognitive performance, increased brain volume and reduced stress.
If you’re looking for an on-the-go stress reducer, the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) is a psychological acupressure strategy I use. The technique is easy to learn, it helps reduce stress and it improves your potential for implementing positive goals, thereby improving your resting heart rate.
Buteyko Breathing Helps Improve Health and Fitness
One of the simplest, most inexpensive and effective natural strategies you can use to improve your health is learning how to breathe properly. The Buteyko breathing method was named after a Russian physician and has been a powerful approach for reversing health problems, including reducing stress and lowering blood pressure.
How you breathe affects the oxygenation of your organs, which has a profound effect on your health. As your breathing normalizes, your body has a better chance to oxygenate tissue, including your brain. Improved breathing affects the ability of your heart to pump, which in turn contributes to athletic performance.
For a discussion on the Buteyko breathing method, see my past article, “How the Buteyko Breathing Method Can Improve Your Health and Fitness.”
What You Consume Affects Fitness
There are several things you consume that impact your heart health and resting heart rate. A diet high in sugar, carbs, fructose and deep-fried foods is going to add stress. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids help improve heart function.
Both animal-based and plant-based omega-3 fatty acids are vital to your health. Ultimately, omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are essential and ideally should be consumed in a ratio of 1-to-1. Unfortunately, the average ratio is 20-to-1 to 50-to-1. Omega-6 is primarily found in oils used in processed foods. Animal-based omega-3 fats may be safely found in wild-caught Alaskan salmon, sardines and krill oil.
Dietary fiber also plays a role in overall health, as it helps your digestive tract work efficiently. It’s better to get fiber from fruits and vegetables than grains and legumes. Fruits and vegetables also offer vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that helps prevent cardiovascular disease.
Catechins found in tea have cardiovascular protective properties and help reduce cognitive decline associated with aging and amyloid plaque development in Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to paying close attention to your nutritional intake, it is important to stay hydrated. When you become dehydrated, it requires more work by the heart to stabilize blood flow.
It is especially important to stay hydrated while you’re exercising. Fluid loss raises your heart rate. Pitch your disposable water bottles and use a reusable glass bottle that makes rehydrating outside your home simple and safe. Limit your intake of stimulants and depressants. Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants that may increase the workload of your heart.
On the other hand, alcohol is a depressant that dehydrates the body and increases the workload to process and remove it.7 To lower your resting heart rate and improve your heart health overall, ditch the cigarettes and e-cigarettes as they deliver toxins and chemicals with a negative effect on your heart, respiratory system and other organs.
Although vaping has been advertised as a healthier alternative to combustible cigarettes, as more information is published, it is becoming increasingly apparent that is not the case.
Eight Hours of Quality Sleep Do More Than Provide Rest
Sleep has been a mystery and while once thought a mere waste of time, research has proven it is a crucial component to a healthy lifestyle. A lack of sleep may affect your mood, creativity and brain detoxification, ultimately increasing your potential risk of chronic disease and reducing longevity.
Sleep deprivation slows your reaction time, increases your risk of accidents and leaves you cognitively impaired. Depending upon your age, you may need from seven to 11 hours of sleep each night. Deprivation may increase your risk for obesity, weaken your immune system and increase your risk for high blood pressure, all of which affect your resting heart rate.
Sleep deprivation can worsen mental health issues and even one poor night’s sleep may temporarily elevate your resting heart rate.8 For more information on how sleep affects your health, including the effect of electromagnetic fields in your home, see my past article, “Top 33 Tips to Optimize Your Sleep Routine.”
Maintain a Healthy Body Weight
Extra weight places an unhealthy stress on the body and heart. Researchers9 from Penn State University found that those who are obese have a higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation, an irregular and rapid heart rate. This may lead to heart failure, stroke and additional conditions.
Dr. Andrew Foy from Penn State College of Medicine suggested losing weight allows patients the chance to manage atrial fibrillation. The data show that those who are obese have a 40% higher risk of developing the condition than those who are not.
In another 10-year study of 1,729 participants, researchers found that those who were overweight had a higher risk of prediabetes and diabetes, but those who were overweight with a faster resting heart rate had an even greater risk.10
Obesity is a culprit in many health conditions, including those related to the heart. It has long been associated with metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, and is known to contribute to ventricular and atrial enlargement as well as hardening of the arteries.11
Weight management is a common challenge you may similarly address using strategies to reduce your resting heart rate. Factors such as exercise, sleep, hydration, stress reduction and your gut health are all contributors to reducing your heart rate and waistline.
Dr. Joseph Mercola is a physician and New York Times best-selling author.
He was voted the 2009 Ultimate Wellness Game Changer by the Huffington Post and has been featured in several national media outlets including Time magazine, LA Times, CNN, Fox News, ABC News, the Today Show and The Dr. Oz Show.
His mission is to transform the traditional medical paradigm in the United States into one in which the root cause of disease is treated, rather than the symptoms.
In addition, he aims to expose corporate and government fraud and mass media hype that often sends people down an unhealthy path.
Sources & References
- 1 Harvard Health Publishing, February 6, 2019
- 2, 7 Medical News Today, March 25, 2018
- 3 Self, December 10, 2017
- 4 JAMA, 2011;306(23):2579 Abstract
- 5, 6 Harvard Health Publishing, February 8, 2019
- 8 CNET, September 28, 2019
- 9 Science Daily, April 18, 2018
- 10 Scientific reports, 2016; 6
- 11 American College of Cardiology, July 23, 2018