One of the most important measurements we can know about ourselves is our resting heart rate. Yet most people don’t know it. They can give you their cholesterol count (usually the total, not the breakdown of HDL and LDL see previous post – How to Improve your cholesterol numbers), but unless the person has recently visited his doctor he will be stumped when it comes to his resting heart rate, or its relevance to his overall health..
WebMD reported, “For most people, a normal resting heart rate is between 60 and 90 beats a minute,” according to Edward F. Coyle, PhD. The professor of kinesiology and health education at the University of Texas at Austin and director of the university’s Human Performance Laboratory, says. “Athletic training can lower that rate by 10 to 20 beats per minute.
“Regular aerobic exercise makes your heart stronger and more efficient, meaning that your heart pumps more blood each time it contracts, needing fewer beats per minute to do its job.”
Edward R. Laskowski, M.D., Mayo Clinic physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist puts the normal resting heart rate between 60 and 100 beats per minute. “Generally, a lower heart rate at rest implies more efficient heart function and better cardiovascular fitness. For example, a well-trained athlete might have a normal resting heart rate closer to 40 beats a minute.”
The upper end of the range is relevant. Gordon F. Tomaselli, MD, professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, told WebMD, “A number of studies have shown that, even within the normal range, a high resting heart rate is associated with an increased risk for ischemic heart disease, stroke, and sudden cardiac death.”
So how high is too high for a resting heart rate? There’s no absolute consensus about this, but most doctors agree that resting heart rates consistently in the upper range are not ideal.
Norwegian researchers recently reported that for every 10-beat rise in resting heart rate, the risk of dying from a heart attack rose by 18% in women and by 10% in men. And a recent Japanese study showed that a resting heart rate higher than 80 beats per minute was associated with a greater risk of becoming obese or developing heart disease decades later. Diabetes and obesity are both risky for the heart, according to WebMD.
It is not difficult to find your resting heart rate. Two ways are illustrated in the pictures. Press two fingers (not thumb) against your wrist below the thumb until you feel your pulse. I have found it easier to take my pulse by placing my fingers against my neck gently. Once you find the pulse, you can check your watch and count the beats in 30 seconds and multiply by two, or use 15 seconds and multiply by four to get the number of beats per minute. Do this when you are in a relaxed state, sitting for a while. Actually, first thing in the morning is best. Before you get out of bed.
Although I am a senior citizen whose pulse should be on the high side, my resting heart rate falls in the mid 40s. This is a result of my daily bicycle riding. You can start to lower your resting heart rate by exercising regularly.
Update April 2014. We are in the age of wearables which count our steps and monitor other bodily functions including heart rate. I wrote up the Pulse Oximeter from Costco which tells not only your heart rate, but the amount of oxygen in your blood, too.
Eat less; move more. Words to live by.