Your heart rate acts as a scanner that mirrors the overall internal state of your body. It speeds up when you are agitated, nervous, or exercising, slows down considerably when you relax in a fixed position, and crashes to zero on death.
However, the scope of inputs that factor into your heart rate extends beyond your mental state and level of physical activity. Your heart rate can be a useful measure of your overall health, your heart function, and your risk factor for cardiac diseases and early mortality.
When it comes to your heart rate, the three most important metrics are your heart rate variability, heart rate recovery, and resting heart rate.
Heart rate variability measures the variance in your heartbeat frequency as a way to check for cardiovascular disorders. On the other hand, heart rate recovery is a measure of how quickly your heart can regain its regular rhythm after the spike in heart rate that occurs in the adrenaline rush of a fight or flight situation and is an indicator of the organ’s efficiency.
While resting heart rate sounds like the most mundane of the bunch, it is every bit as important as the other two. Your resting heart rate measures how often your heart beats in a minute when you are resting, and this figure can say a lot about your heart health.
Do You Know: Resting heart rates can vary depending on the individual and can be affected by genetic predisposition, health, fitness levels, current medications, emotional variance, hydration levels, and even the weather.
The resting heart rate measures how much your heart has to exert itself to pump the minimum required amount of blood your body needs (during rest.) The more your heart has to work to keep up, the less efficient (and probably less healthy) your heart is.
So, with your resting heart rate, lower scores are better.
Do You Know: The average resting heart rate for healthy individuals, according to the American Heart Association, is 60-100 beats per minute (BPM.) However, seasoned athletes, incredibly fit people, and folks who meditate or fast often can often have resting heart rates that are as low as 40 BPM.
Hence, lowering your resting heart rate is one of the best ways to improve heart health. Plus, with heart disease being the leading cause of death here in the U.S., by extension, working on this heart metric also does wonders for your life expectancy.
How, then, do you lower your resting heart rate?
Lower Your Resting Heart Rate: Lifestyle Practices
Regular exercising is arguably the best thing you can do for your resting heart rate and your overall heart health in general.
According to the research, there is a direct correlation between a lower level of physical fitness and a high resting rate. The study also shows links between a high resting heart rate and higher body weight and obesity, directly linking to low levels of physical fitness.
Exercise reduces your resting heart rate because it works to increase your heart’s efficiency, directly impacting your heart function and improving its competence levels.
Your heart rate increases considerably during exercise, and your heart sustains these elevated rates for extended periods. This process is like a workout for your heart, strengthening its muscles and optimizing its performance.
Consequently, your heart becomes more efficient both under duress and in regular function, too, requiring a lower heart rate to provide the minimum necessary blood supply.
Constant repetition of this process is why seasoned athletes and people with extreme physical fitness levels can often post resting heart rates in the low 40s.
The best exercises for lowering your heart rate are those that work the heart the most — cardiovascular activities like walking, running, jogging, swimming, and cycling. Over time, incorporating these practices into your lifestyle can significantly reduce your heart disease risk and other cardiovascular-related conditions.
Other lifestyle practices than can help with lowering your resting heart rate include:
When to See a Doctor
Most times, resting heart rate spikes are temporary and will normalize over time. In cases where the cause is one of the issues we touched on above, implementing the right lifestyle practices should have you back to a regular lower resting heart rate in no time.
However, in rare cases, your heart rate may spike and stay high for extended periods. In these cases, you should immediately consult with your doctor, as the heart rate variance could be a sign of a potentially dangerous underlying condition.
Note: You can measure your heart rate yourself using an electronic device like a FitBit, or by taking your pulse, counting the number of beats in 10 seconds, and multiplying by 6.
Depending on the severity of the issue, your doctor may recommend solutions like:
- Other lifestyle changes
- Vagal maneuvers (physical actions that can help reset your heart rate)
- Heart rate medications like beta-blockers
- A pacemaker (a small electronic device that can help regulate your heart rate)
- Catheter ablation (a corrective procedure that fixes a faulty electrical pathway in the heart)