Your heart rate changes from minute to minute. It depends on whether you are standing up or lying down, moving around or sitting still, stressed or relaxed.
What is resting heart rate?
When you sit quietly, your heart slips into the slower, steady pace known as your resting heart rate. This resting heart rate tends to be stable from day to day.
The usual range for resting heart rate is anywhere between 60 and 90 beats per minute. Above 90 is considered high. An increase in your resting heart rate over time may be a signal of heart trouble ahead.
What influences your resting heart rate?
Many factors influence your resting heart rate. Genes play a role. Aging tends to speed it up. Regular exercise tends to slow your heart rate down. (In his prime, champion cyclist Miguel Indurain had a resting heart rate of just 28 beats per minute.) Stress, medications, and medical conditions also influence your resting heart rate.
What's the connection between health and resting heart rate?
Results of observational research studies support a link between health and heart rate. Researchers from Norway previously reported the results of a large study looking at changes in resting heart rate over 10 years in JAMA.
They recruited more than 29,000 people without any history or heart disease, high blood pressure, or any other type of cardiovascular disorder, and measured their resting heart rates when they started the study and again 10 years later.
Compared to people whose resting heart rates were under 70 beats per minute at the study's start and its end, those whose resting heart rate rose from under 70 to more than 85 were 90% more likely to have died during the course of the study. The increase in risk was slightly less for those with resting heart rates of 70 to 85 at the study's start, and who had a greater than 85 at the study's end.
Although 90% sounds like a huge and scary increase, let me put it in perspective. Among the group whose heart rates stayed under 70 throughout the study, there were 8.2 deaths per 10,000 people per year. Among those whose heart rates rose above 85, there were 17.2 deaths per 10,000 people per year.
The results also suggested that lowering your resting heart rate over time may be beneficial, but the researchers could not say that for certain.
In another study of over 129,000 postmenopausal women, researchers examined the relationship between resting heart rate and heart attacks and strokes.
The study found that women with the highest resting heart rates (more than 76 beats per minute) were 26% more likely to have a heart attack or die from one than those with the lowest resting heart rates (62 beats per minute or less).
How to measure your resting heart rate
You don't need a doctor's visit to keep track of your resting heart rate. You can measure your resting heart rate yourself using these simple steps:
- Press your index and middle fingers together on your wrist, below the fat pad of your thumb.
- Feel around lightly until you detect throbbing. If you press too hard you may suppress the pulse.
- You can probably get a pretty accurate reading by counting the number of beats in 15 seconds and multiplying that number by four.
- The best time to get your resting heart rate is first thing in the morning, even before you get out of bed.
- To gauge your maximum heart rate, take your pulse immediately after exercising as vigorously as possible.
How to lower your resting heart rate
By doing these four things you can start to lower your resting heart rate and also help maintain a healthy heart:
- Exercise more. When you take a brisk walk, swim, or bicycle, your heart beats faster during the activity and for a short time afterward. But exercising every day gradually slows the resting heart rate.
- Reduce stress. Performing the relaxation response, meditation, tai chi, and other stress-busting techniques lowers the resting heart rate over time.
- Avoid tobacco products. Smokers have higher resting heart rates. Quitting brings it back down.
- Lose weight if necessary. The larger the body, the more the heart must work to supply it with blood. Losing weight can help slow an elevated resting heart rate.
When to see a doctor
If your resting heart rate is consistently above 85 beats per minute, mention it to your doctor. While it may be normal for you, it's good to consider how your heart rate and other personal factors may be influencing your overall health, including your risk of cardiovascular disease.