Your resting heart rate (RHR), when considered in the context of other markers, such as blood pressure and cholesterol, can help identify potential health problems and gauge your current heart health.
Your heart rate is measured by the number of times your heart beats each minute. This varies from person to person, but knowing your heart rate, and how it changes during rest and exercise, can help you to monitor your health. For example, A lower heart rate when you’re resting usually indicates a healthier heart.
According to the American Heart Association, the average resting heart rate should be between 60-80 beats per minute (BPM). However, 60-80 BPM is by no means the only rate at which a healthy person’s pulse can be. For athletes or people who often perform cardiovascular activities, a normal resting heart rate may be closer to 40 BPM.
The more you work out, the lower your resting heart rate will be, and the lower your resting heart rate, the less hard your heart has to work. The best way to think about it is to view your heart as a muscle. The more you work it, the stronger it gets, and a stronger heart means more blood with each beat. The result is that the same amount of work can be done with fewer beats. If your heart needs more beats to do the same amount of work then over time, it may lead to cardiovascular disease and/or heart attacks.
Many factors impact your RHR—some in your control and some outside of your control. Understanding what is causing an increase in your RHR is an essential step to getting it back within range.
Below is a list of some of the factors that may influence your RHR:
Age: As you get older your RHR tends to increase.
Emotions: Emotions such as stress, anxiety, extreme happiness, or sadness may increase your RHR.
Medications: Many medications can influence RHR. These include beta blockers, thyroid medications, and anti-depressants. Speak to your physician to find out how your medications might be affecting your RHR.
Health conditions: Many health conditions can influence RHR. These include hypothyroidism and anaemia. Speak to your physician to find out how your health condition(s) may affect your RHR.
Genetics: Certain genetic variants may influence your RHR. This is still an open area of research, but most of the genetic variants scientists have discovered to this point have had a moderate to minor impact.
Caffeine: Caffeine intake may paradoxically lower your RHR. This effect typically lasts for a short period. The heart-rate-lowering effect of caffeine is believed to be related to the increase in blood pressure that occurs following caffeine intake.
Tobacco products: Smokers tend to have higher RHRs than former and non-smokers.
Excess weight: The bigger the body, the more the heart needs to work to supply it with blood. If you are carrying excess pounds, losing weight may help lower your RHR.
Air temperature: Extreme temperature and humidity may influence your RHR.
Altitude: Resting heart rate is greater at higher altitudes.
How Can You Lower Your Resting Heart Rate?
Participating in moderate or high-intensity aerobic physical activity on a regular basis is one of the best ways to lower your RHR and improve your cardiovascular health. Exercises as simple as brisk walking can improve your RHR.2
Current physical activity guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity each week.
The good news is that, with the flood of heart rate monitoring wearables hitting the shops, it’s now easier than ever to monitor and improve your resting heart rate.