Our hearts are the powerhouse of the human body, and they should be taken care of as such. A healthy heart means a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, which takes a life every 90 seconds here in the United States. In fact, heart disease is the number one cause of death in America.
We need all the help we can get to keep our hearts strong and healthy, and the first step is understanding our heart rate.
Most people have no idea what their heart rate is, both resting and active. Knowing what your heart rate is on a regular basis can help you understand how your body is working.
Your heart rate tells you more than just how many times it beats in a minute. It also says a lot about your health and may indicate potential problems going on.
We’re going to talk all about what different heart rates mean about you and your health, how you can improve your heart rate, and much more. Let’s begin!
What Is a Normal Heart Rate?
We’ll start off by discussing what kind of heart rate is considered normal by doctors and cardiologists. If you were to look at the ‘standard’ of heart rate model used by many medical professionals today, you’d find that the target for resting heart rate, or RHR, is between 60 and 100 bpm.
This is not necessarily the case or consensus between cardiologists, however. Actually, this out-dated algorithm doesn’t have very much evidence behind it, and it’s much more likely that a normal RHR should be between 50 and 90 bpm.
So where exactly did this range come from, and if it’s not entirely accurate, why is it still being used?
A Look into the History of Cardiology
Before we had the incredible heart-monitoring technology that we have now, our level of understanding about the heart was a little bit skewed. In fact, the ‘standard’ of heart rate was determined by cardiologists in the late 1920s, which was long before we had conducted any proper studies of heart rate among the population.
Traditional cardiographs use grided paper, and each little square indicates a measurement of time. If the distance between two beats on paper was less than three large squares (equalling to 100bpm), then the patient would be considered to have tachycardia, which translates into a fast heart rate.
Most cardiologists would agree that 90 bpm is the high end of normal and that 60 bpm is a bit high to be the low end of normal.
In fact, while 85bpm is within the normal range, anyone about 75 bpm would be cautioned to take some action to get their heart rate lower. Also, it’s quite normal for people who partake in quite a bit of physical activity, especially athletes, to have a heart rate between 40 and 50 bpm.
Right now, anything above 100 is considered tachycardia, and anything below 60 is considered bradycardia, which is a low heart rate. This broad spectrum holds a lot of different levels of health, and should not all be treated equally as ‘normal.’
For now, the general consensus will remain between 60 and 100 bpm. However, it’s important to keep your own health in mind and aim to be much lower than 100. Don’t fret if your rate is between 40 and 60 bpm.
What a High Heart Rate Means
So now that we know what is considered the general range of a normal heart rate, we can discuss more in depth what each area means for you. We’ll start with a high heart rate, and for this example, we’ll be looking between 90 and 110 bpm.
Being on the tachycardia side of the spectrum comes with some dangers and risks, and it can say a lot of things about your health. Once your RHR goes above 100 bpm, your risk for cardiovascular disease increases significantly.
A study involving 3,000 male patients over 16 years old showed researchers a lot about what causes a high RHR and what its effects are.
What the researchers found was that the chance of premature death doubles when your resting heart rate is between 81 and 90 bpm, and even triples if your RHR consistently reaches over 90 bpm.
So what kinds of things cause a higher RHR? Here are some examples:
Sedentary lifestyle – Those who get little to no physical activity throughout the day are far more likely to have a higher RHR.
Obesity and increased fat levels – It’s widely known that increased fat levels require your heart to work a lot harder. This results in a higher RHR.
Chronic stress – It’s no secret that your heart rate will increase when you’re under stress, physical or emotional. If you’re experiencing consistently elevated cortisol levels, your heart rate will likely reflect this.
Not drinking enough water- -This could likely be a causal factor in most health conditions, and heart rate is no exception.
As you can see, unhealthy lifestyle choices along with stress put your heart at a greater risk of disease. So what can you do to lower your RHR?
Lowering Your Fast Heart Rate
Luckily, there are things you can do to lower your RHR and reverse some of the effects of having an elevated heart rate.
The first step is to determine the cause of your problem. If you’re constantly stressed, you will want to address this issue. One of the best ways to lower your cortisol levels is to get some exercise on a regular basis.
Physical activity not only reduces stress, but it also lowers your resting heart rate. It basically kills two birds with one stone. Exercise is also the key to reducing heart rate if the cause is either a sedentary lifestyle or obesity.
If you’re out of shape and concerned about your ability to exercise, start off by simply walking briskly for 30 minutes or so a day. You’ll start to see your RHR drop, and you may even experience some fat loss while you’re at it! Improving your diet will cause a lot of positive impacts as well.
It’s important to note that your heart rate should be tracked over time. Just because it is high at one point in the day, it doesn’t mean you should be concerned.
What a Low Heart Rate Means
While the dangers of a high RHR are clear to see, many people don’t understand the implications of a considerably low RHR. If you aren’t a very conditioned athlete and your heart rate goes below 50 bpm, this could be a warning sign.
If you have what is called bradycardia, you’re at risk for fainting, cardiac arrest, and even sudden death. This is because your heart is struggling to pump enough oxygenated blood through your system.
Those with bradycardia are likely to experience symptoms like fainting or near fainting, dizziness, fatigue, chest pain, and confusion.
So what causes bradycardia, and what factors put someone at higher risk for a low resting heart rate? Here are a few risk factors to keep in mind:
Age-related tissue damage – Overtime, our heart can face some significant damage, especially if its health hasn’t been the best.
Tissue damage from other factors – Age isn’t the only thing that can cause tissue damage to the heart. Other factors like previous heart attacks or heart disease put you at risk as well.
Genetic and congenital factors – Unfortunately, some are born with heart disorders or inherit the risk of developing cardiovascular problems from their parents.
Infection of heart tissue – Infection of heart tissue, known as myocarditis, can also cause bradycardia.
There are several other potential risk factors to consider, such as lupus, medications, and an underactive thyroid. But what can be done to improve a low resting heart rate?
How to Improve a Low Heart Rate
Often times, it’s a bit more difficult to elevate a low heart rate than it is to lower an elevated one. Simply embracing a healthier lifestyle and getting proper exercise may not be enough.
Many people who have bradycardia, especially when caused by heart damage or cardiovascular disease, wear pacemakers to help regulate their heart rate properly.
Other options to help raise your heart rate include treating some of the issues that we stated above. For instance, if your bradycardia is due to low thyroid function, then you need treatment of the thyroid issue.
If the bradycardia is a result of adverse reaction to medications like beta blockers, your doctor may take you off that particular drug.
How to Find Your RHR
In order to properly track your heart rate and what it means for your health, you need to know how to find your resting heart rate in the first place. This can be done in more than one way, either by manually checking your pulse over a period of time or by using a heart rate monitor.
Heart rate monitors have become very popular as different big-name companies like Fitbit and Apple have created wearable monitors that connect with your smartphone. These will tell you what your heart rate is at different points throughout the day during different activities.
If you don’t have one of these fancy watches, you can still easily find your RHR. Just make sure that when you’re checking your heart rate, you do it in a time when you are under minimal stress and have been without any sort of activity in the last five or 10 minutes.
Simply get a timer or use a clock and find your pulse either on your wrist or in the side of your neck. Once you’ve found it, go ahead and count the number of beats that occur within 30 seconds. Multiply this number by two and you’ve got your RHR!
A healthy heart can be easily achieved when you know how to keep track of your own health. Make sure that you’re checking your heart rate often so that you can know what changes may be needed in your life.
For more information about heart health and what you can do to live your best life, check out our blog! You can also find out more about our classes that help you take control of your health here!
Proudly serving the Katy, Fulshear and Richmond Texas area, Beat Strong Fitness and Nutrition offers nutrition and group interval training classes based on high intensity interval training, or HIIT.