What Is Resting Heart Rate: The Lower The Better?

Our hearts are continually beating, and over the average human lifetime, the heart averages around 2.5 billion beats, making it arguably the hardest-working organ in the body. It is also one of the most important organs for survival, as the heart is responsible for the distribution of blood and oxygen to the rest of the body.

Consequently, your heart’s proper function is one of the most critical biomarkers for determining your overall health and wellbeing. This actuality is especially true here in the United States, where heart disease is the leading cause of death, claiming around a million lives each year.

When physicians monitor heart health, the focus is often on detecting high blood pressure and high cholesterol, two of the most common causes for concern among American citizens.

However, one simple, easy to read marker — how fast your heart beats when you are at rest — can be a telltale sign of your heart’s strength and offer considerable insight into your current and future health and wellbeing.

What is Resting Heart Rate?

Resting Heart Rate
Image Source: Terry Cralle

Your resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats in one minute while you are at rest.

This figure offers a real-time indicator of your health and fitness level as well as how well your heart is functioning and how efficient it is at pumping oxygenated blood and regulating your circulatory system.

Note: Physicians often factor in your resting heart rate and other markers like your cholesterol level, sugar level, and blood pressure when gauging heart health and overall wellbeing.

When you are in a passive state, the organs and muscles in the rest of your body do not need as much oxygen as they would when you are carrying out your regular daily functions. Hence, in this state, your heart pumps only the minimal amount of blood needed to keep the body system running.

Consequently, your resting heart rate is typically significantly lower than the average heart rate at work or during exercise.

Why It Matters?

Your resting heart rate measures how fast your heart is beating when you are in a state of non-exertion, and this measurement can have some far-reaching implications.

While at rest, your heart only needs to pump the minimal volume of blood required to keep you functioning. From this fact, we can easily infer that if while you are at rest, your heart is beating faster than usual, your heart is having to overwork to keep your system running, which can be a severe cause for concern.

Note: The American Heart Association estimates that a healthy adult’s resting heart rate should fall within the 60-100 beats per minute range.

One condition that may provoke this overexertion of the heart while the body is at rest is the buildup of cholesterol plaque in the blood vessels. Plaque buildup can restrict blood flow and, hence, require the heart to work harder than usual to maintain the minimum necessary blood supply to the body’s extremities.

Other factors that may cause an abnormally high resting heart rate include hormonal imbalances, low fitness levels, high levels of stress and anxiety, and underlying illnesses and heart conditions.

So, how critical is your resting heart rate to your present and future health? According to research, your resting heart rate level is often significantly correlated with your current heart health and future risk for heart conditions.

In one 2013 report, researchers detailed that, after a 16-year follow-up of 2798 male subjects, their study shows a clear correlation between an increase in resting heart rate and the onset of premature death.

According to the study, respondents who had resting heart rates in the 81-90 range were twice as likely to die early than others with regular resting heart rates. The researchers also noted an alarming 16% increase in the risk of mortality with every ten beats per minute rise in resting heart rate.

Another 2017 review that explored the relationship between resting heart rate and blood pressure found a direct correlation between high resting heart rates and an increased risk factor for heart attacks and other forms of heart disease.

On the other hand, a lower heart rate can indicate optimal heart function, higher physical fitness levels, and a reduced risk for heart attacks, heart disease, and early mortality.

pulse rate chart
Image Source: Terry Cralle

What is the Perfect Resting Heart Rate?

According to the American Heart Association, a heart rate between the 60-100 beats per minute (BPM) range is a good score for most healthy individuals.

Hence, if your heart rate falls within this range, you can consider yourself having a regular resting heart rate, any higher than that, and you could be at grave risk of suffering from heart attacks or other related heart conditions.

However, this range does not tell the whole story.

First, even if you fall within the range, having a resting heart rate closer to 100 can still be a cause for concern. Lower is better.

On the other hand, with heart rates lower than the 60 BPM, things get complicated.

People with optimal health levels, a high degree of physical fitness, and those who regularly participate in sports can often post resting heart rate levels lower than 60 BPM, even reaching the low 40s.

However, low BPM does not always equal health. In rare cases, lower resting heart rate levels may stem from underlying heart conditions. This form of lowered heart rate (bradycardia) often comes accompanied with symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, or pain in your sternum.

Warning: If you are experiencing these symptoms of bradycardia, you should visit the doctor immediately, as the condition is often an indicator of a graver underlying heart condition.

How to Measure Your Resting Heart Rate?

Today, the most efficient way to measure your heart rate yourself is with portable electronic trackers like the Fitbit.or a dedicated heart rate monitor. Alternatively, you can always manually take your pulse, counting the number of beats within 10 seconds, and then multiplying by 6 to calculate your heart rate.

To get the most accurate measure of your resting heart rate, take the reading of your heart as soon as you wake, before leaving the bed or ingesting anything.

Read More: Average Sleeping Heart Rate by Age

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