Resting Heart Rate: What’s Healthy?

Take a look at this recent New York Times article, which highlights two studies that examined the effects of high resting heart rates and stroke/heart disease risk.  These studies found that those whose resting heart rates were at the “…upper end of normal… anything above 80,” may have a higher risk for heart disease.  What’s the verdict?

Resting Heart Rate

A resting heart rate is the number of times that the heart beats per minute while at complete rest.  According to WebMD and Mayo Clinic, a normal resting heart rate ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute. Well-trained athletes can have resting rates as low as 40 beats per minute.

The Research

As part of a longitudinal study published in The Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 50,000 men and women were followed for nearly 20 years.  The subjects were all free of any cardiovascular diseases at baseline.  As they were followed, the researchers found that for every increment of 10 beats per minute, there was a positive correlation to heart disease (more than 4,000 subjects died of heart disease).  The second study, also longitudinal, published in The American Journal of Hypertension found that those whose resting heart rates were above 80 beats per minute were also predisposed to the risk of developing diabetes and obesity.

Bottom Line

Heart rate is influenced by MANY factors: exercise, body size, emotions, medications…etc.  The authors mentioned that those who reported no exercise were at consistently higher risk of heart disease than those who reported any level of activity.  Physical activity is a great way to keep resting heart-rates within a normal range, which is still considered to be between 60-100 beats per minute.  It is probable that the lower end of the range is a better place to be.

How to Take a Resting Heart Rate

Your most accurate resting heart rate is in the early morning when you are still in bed but just woken up.  You haven’t walked around yet, checked your iPhone or drank any coffee 🙂  Roll to your side and lift your palm up.  Place two fingers on the thumb side of your wrist — when you feel the pulse, count the number of beats in 15 seconds by timing yourself on a watch. Multiply this number by 4 to determine how many times your heart beats in one minute.


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