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RESTING HEART RATE AND FITNESS: MYTHS AND FACTS

Mya Care Blogger 25 Jan 2024
RESTING HEART RATE AND FITNESS: MYTHS AND FACTS

One important indicator of your general health and fitness is your heart rate. Resting heart rate is a key indicator of cardiovascular health that can help you track your progress as you work towards your fitness goals.

In this article, we will explore what resting heart rate is and what it indicates about your fitness. We will also debunk some common myths and misconceptions along the way.

What is Resting Heart Rate?

The number of times your heart beats per minute while you are at rest is known as your resting heart rate or RHR. It is also known as your resting pulse. RHR is typically measured in the morning, after a good night's sleep, and before any physical activity.

According to the National Institutes of Health[1], average resting heart rates for adults and children include:

  • 60-100 bpm for ages 10 and above
  • 70 to 110 bpm for children 7 to 9 years
  • 75 to 115 bpm for children 5 to 6 years
  • 80 to 120 bpm for young children at 3-4 years
  • 80 to 130 bpm for infants at 1-2 years
  • 80 to 160 bpm for infants aged 1 to 11 months
  • 70 to 190 bpm for newborns aged 0 to 1 month

Resting pulse can vary depending on factors such as aging, gender, and fitness level.

The average resting heart rate of an athlete is between 40 and 60 bpm. This is not necessarily desirable, and many athletes go on to develop heart enlargement in their later years.

Resting Heart Rate Calculator

To calculate your bpm at rest, you can use a simple formula:

  1. Find your pulse on your wrist or neck.
  2. For fifteen seconds, count the number of beats.
  3. Calculate your beats per minute by multiplying that number by four.

For example, your average resting heart rate would be 80 bpm if you were to count 20 beats in 15 seconds.

Maximum Heart Rate Calculation: Deduct your age from 220 to find your maximum heart rate. Your maximum heart rate, for instance, would be 190 beats per minute (220 - 30) if you were thirty years old.

Resting Heart Rate by Age and Gender

The resting heart rate of women is often slightly greater than that of men.[2]. This is because women's hearts are typically smaller and have to work harder to pump the same amount of blood as men's hearts. The difference is typically minor, and 60-100 bpm is still considered to be an ideal resting heart rate for both genders.

Old age can lower the pulse at rest, over and above cardiovascular health or fitness. This is because the resting pulse reflects the heart’s efficiency.[3] If it is too high or low, it is a sign that the heart is less efficient at pumping blood.

With age, the heart muscles become weaker and less elastic, which can affect their ability to contract and relax. As a result, the resting pulse is often lower, higher, or erratic.

Other factors that contribute to a lower resting pulse in the elderly are:

  • Changes in blood vessels
  • Autonomic nervous system function
  • Hormonal changes

These factors can influence the heart's ability to regulate blood flow and maintain a healthy average heart rate at rest.

When to See a Doctor

Pulse too low. While a lower pulse is a normal part of aging, a pulse below 60 bpm is not a good sign. This may point towards an underlying health condition, like bradycardia[4], or medications that affect heart rate.

Pulse too high. A resting bpm above 100 is considered too high and may be a sign of hypertension. The heart's capacity to pump blood might be further compromised by hypertension's damaging effects on the heart muscle and blood vessels.

Both hypertension and bradycardia can lead to heart disease and eventual heart failure.[5] [6]Managing these disorders with medication and lifestyle modifications can assist in normalizing resting heart rate and possibly blood pressure.

If worried about your pulse, it is a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional and get a thorough evaluation.

What a Pulse at Rest Says About Our Fitness

Your resting heart rate might reveal important details about your general fitness and health. Here are some key things your resting heart rate can indicate:

Cardiovascular Health

A pulse near the lower end of the healthy spectrum is generally a sign of good cardiovascular health. A lower resting heart rate means your heart is stronger, more efficient, and takes less strain to pump blood. This is associated with a lower risk of cardiac problems.

Fitness Level

During exercise, the heart rate goes up to 50-70% of what it is at rest. This gives the heart muscle a good workout, improves its strength, and makes it more efficient at pumping blood.

As a result, regular exercise can lower your resting heart rate over time. Your heart does not have to work as hard to maintain a steady resting pulse.

If you notice your heart rate lowers gradually over time, it is usually positive and shows that your fitness is improving. However, if it drops suddenly or gets too low, it might be a sign of a cardiovascular condition.

Recovery Time

Your resting heart rate can also indicate how quickly your heart recovers after physical activity. A lower resting heart rate means your heart can return to its resting state faster. This is often a sign of good cardiovascular health and fitness.

The time it takes for your pulse to normalize after exercise can vary depending on fitness level and workout intensity. However, if you engage in high-intensity exercise, it may take longer for your heart rate to return to normal.

To calculate heart rate recovery, measure your heart rate immediately after the most intense part of your workout (peak heart rate) before cooling down. Then, measure the heart rate again after resting for 60 seconds post-workout. The difference between these two values will indicate your heart rate recovery

  • Your MHR - MHR1 = your heart rate recovery

For example, if your heart rate immediately after the most strenuous part of your exercise routine was 120 beats per minute, and your heart rate after the rest period was 100 beats per minute, your heart rate recovery would be 20 beats per minute.

The higher your heart rate recovery, the quicker your heart recovers. This indicates better fitness and overall health. 18 bpm or higher is considered to be a good heart recovery rate.[7]

What Causes High Resting Heart Rate?

When someone is unfit, their heart may struggle to return to its resting rate after exercise. They may also have a higher baseline at rest. The main reason for this is a weaker heart muscle that works more to pump blood around the body. Other factors include:

  • Inefficient oxygen delivery: Fit individuals have a higher oxygen-carrying capacity, meaning they can pump less blood to meet their oxygen needs. This is due to having a greater number of red blood cells and improved lung function. Unfit individuals may have lower oxygen-carrying capacity, leading to inadequate oxygen delivery to the muscles. This can result in a longer recovery time for the heart.
  • Increased lactate buildup: The body creates lactate as a byproduct during vigorous exercise when it is generating energy. Fit individuals have better lactate clearance mechanisms, allowing them to quickly remove lactate from their system. In contrast, unfit individuals may have slower lactate clearance, leading to a prolonged recovery time for the heart.
  • High Blood Pressure: Hypertension, or high blood pressure, can contribute towards an elevated resting pulse. When blood pressure is elevated, the heart has to work harder to pump blood through the narrowed blood vessels. This raises the RHR as the heart tries to compensate for the higher pressure.

It is important for unfit individuals to gradually increase their physical activity level and engage in regular cardiovascular exercise. This can help strengthen the heart muscle, improve oxygen delivery, enhance lactate clearance, and ultimately reduce recovery time.

4 Myths and Facts About Heart Rate

There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding heart rate. Let us take a look at some of the most common ones and separate fact from fiction.

Myth: A Resting Heart Rate of 120 When Sick is Normal

Fact: A resting heart rate of 120 when sick is not normal and could be a sign of an underlying health issue such as hypertension.

When you are sick, your body is working harder to fight off the illness, which can cause your heart rate to become slightly elevated. However, it is not usual for the heart to beat more than 100 times per minute, even when ill. This is one reason it is not recommended to engage in strenuous physical activity when running a fever, as it can push the heart rate up too much.

A resting heart rate of 120 is considered too high and should be monitored by a healthcare professional.

Myth: A Lower Resting Heart Rate is Always Better

Fact: While a lower resting heart rate is generally a sign of good cardiovascular health, there is such a thing as a resting heart rate that is too low.

A resting bpm below 60 is considered bradycardia and can be a sign of an underlying health issue such as heart disease. If you have a consistently low resting heart rate, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional.

Myth: A Sudden Spike While Resting is Normal

Fact: A sudden spike in heart rate while resting is not normal for a resting pulse. Yet they are usually temporary and not a major cause for concern.

A sudden spike in pulse rate is also known as a heart palpitation. Heart palpitations are usually part of the body's response to something that places the body under pressure. They are not normal for a resting pulse.

Heart palpitations can be triggered by factors that place the body under pressure, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Allergic reactions, even when mild
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Lack of sleep
  • Medications, such as certain asthma inhalers, decongestants, and thyroid medications
  • Caffeine and stimulants
  • Sudden change in temperature

Breathing and addressing the underlying cause can get them to abate quicker if they persist for longer than a few minutes.

If you experience frequent or severe palpitations that are accompanied by other symptoms, it could be a sign of an underlying health condition.[8] It is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Myth: Resting Pulse Stays Fairly Constant Throughout Life

Fact: While genetics and age play a role in your resting heart rate, there are steps you can take to lower it. Regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and managing stress can all contribute to a lower resting heart rate.

How to Lower Your Resting Heart Rate

If you are looking to lower your resting heart rate, here are some tips to help you get started:

Exercise Regularly

One of the best strategies to reduce your resting heart rate is to exercise regularly. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each day to see improvements in your resting heart rate.

During exercise, your target heart rate depends on your age and overall fitness level. A general guideline is to aim for a target heart rate that is 50-85% of your maximum heart rate. This accounts for all forms of exercise, from brisk walks to intensive training sessions.

Remember to listen to your body and consult with a fitness expert for better guidance on how to get fit. If your resting pulse is abnormal, it is a good idea to get it checked out by a healthcare professional.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Obesity and excess weight can raise your resting heart rate and strain your heart. This strain can be lessened, and resting heart rate lowered by maintaining a healthy weight. You may keep your weight in check by eating a well-balanced plant-based diet and exercising on a regular basis.

Manage Stress

Stress can cause your heart rate to increase, even when you are at rest. This is one of the leading risk factors for developing hypertension. Finding healthy ways to manage stress, such as meditation or exercise, can help lower your resting heart rate.

Conclusion

Resting heart rate is a key indicator of your cardiovascular health and fitness. You can improve your overall health and reduce heart disease risk by taking steps to keep your resting pulse at the lower end of the healthy spectrum.

Remember to consult with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns about your resting heart rate, and always listen to your body. With the right lifestyle choices and self-care, you can achieve a healthy resting heart rate and improve your overall well-being.

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Sources:

  • [1]https://www.verywellhealth.com/resting-heart-rate-by-age-5218932
  • [2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4081162/
  • [3] https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/03/12/591513777/hearts-get-younger-even-at-middle-age-with-exercise
  • [4] https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/arrhythmia/about-arrhythmia/bradycardia--slow-heart-rate
  • [5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539800/
  • [6] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bradycardia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355474
  • [7] https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/23490-heart-rate-recovery
  • [8] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tachycardia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355127

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