Heart Rate, or pulse, is the speed or number of times the heart beats (measured by the number of contractions of the heart) per minute. It can be detected in areas of the body where the artery is close to the skin: the palm side of the wrist, side of the neck, groin, back of the knee, or top of the foot. In healthy adults, a resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute, however, in conditioned athletes, it is often well below 60. When the heart rate is not within normal parameters, it can be an indication of what is happening around you…fear, anxiety, fatigue, contentment, or a medical problem.
The first step to determine the status of your heart rate (HR) is to measure your resting heart rate. A normal resting heart rate for a healthy adult is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. The best time to measure it is immediately after you wake up in the morning before you get out of bed (or when sitting and relaxing). Place your index and middle fingers on the side of your neck or on the palm side of your wrist. Then, count the number of beats you feel for 60 seconds.
Whether you determine that your HR is too high or too low don’t panic. Take your HR repeatedly and document results so you can discuss it with your primary care physician. It is not unusual to find a wide range of numbers which varies individually. For example, it is not unusual for a conditioned athlete (marathon runner) to have a resting HR of mid to high forties or low fifties. More common in the general population, however, is a high resting HR and this can be an indication of a potential health problem. When your resting HR is high it indicates that your heart is working harder than it needs to…especially if you are at rest! Remember, your heart is a muscle and it doesn’t work very efficiently when it is deconditioned…it has to work harder than it should to pump blood through your body, even at rest!
All is not lost! The good news is that you can lower your resting heart rate and improve heart health with a few lifestyle changes.
Probably the best way to lower your resting HR is to avoid a sedentary lifestyle and get moving. Inactivity leads to a downward spiral of poor health …obesity and its associated problems of high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Remember, you don’t have to run 26.2 miles to be fit and healthy. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week. And, it can be broken down into 10-15-20 minute sessions once, twice or three times per day.
The negative impact of stress and anxiety on health and wellness is well document. While avoiding stress may not be possible, one can learn to manage it. Exercise is one effective way but there are others. Meditation, breathing exercises and yoga are a few. Visit a YouTube video on Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR).
Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants and can raise your heart rate.
Losing weight will lower your HR. A healthy diet that maintains a body mass index (BMI) between 18 and 25 for adults is an essential component to a lower HR and overall good health. A BMI over 25 is considered overweight and over 30 obese. Use the BMI calculator from the CDC at: www.cdc.gov>adult_bmi
Dehydration can lead to thicker blood. Thicker blood requires the heart to work harder to circulate blood throughout the body. Drinking plenty of water, (15.5 cups for men and 11.5 cups per day for women), will adequately hydrate the body.
For many, getting 8 hours of sleep per night is easier said than done. But, adequate sleep contributes to overall good health and a lower heart rate.
Lowering your resting heart rate is an essential component to good health. The steps necessary to attain a lower heart rate such as exercise, eating healthy, maintaining a healthy BMI, hydrating, and getting adequate sleep will also contribute to overall physical and mental health and wellness. Discuss how you might begin your journey to a healthier lifestyle with your primary care physician or health care professional.
SOURCES: Cleveland Clinic; Johns Hopkins University, Centers for Disease Control
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This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician.
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Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM.