Resting heart rate: The overlooked metric in cardiac health assessment
Amidst a plethora of health-tracking gadgets, an easily accessible and crucial indicator of health often goes unnoticed: the resting heart rate. This metric, which can be measured without the aid of any sophisticated devices, holds significant insights into one’s cardiac health.
Resting heart rate signifies the frequency of heartbeats per minute when the body is at rest. In healthy adults, this typically falls between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Measuring it is a straightforward task: merely placing two fingers on the neck, adjacent to the windpipe, and counting the heartbeats over a minute.
Cardiologists concur that understanding one’s resting heart rate can reveal significant information about heart health. Dr. Ernst von Schwarz, a triple-board certified cardiologist and clinical professor of medicine at UCLA, explains that the heart functions as a muscle, with its prime responsibility being to pump blood throughout the body. The efficiency of this function depends on the heart’s contraction or heartbeat frequency.
A weakened heart, Dr. von Schwarz notes, compensates by beating faster to maintain the same blood flow. Fluctuations in heart rate may signify underlying cardiac issues or other health concerns such as infection or thyroid problems. Dr. Bethany Doran, cardiologist and Enabled Healthcare founder, further adds that trained athletes often exhibit a lower resting heart rate, signifying efficient heart function due to their regular exercise regimes.
However, a high resting heart rate isn’t always cause for concern. Dr. von Schwarz explains that it could be a response to stimulants like coffee or pain. Certain medications and illicit drugs can also raise the heart rate. More worrying causes include anxiety, hyperthyroidism, dehydration, heat stroke, lack of oxygen, cardiac abnormalities, or heart failure.
Concerns regarding a low resting heart rate are largely situational. Dr. Doran suggests that a rate of 50 beats per minute is usually benign, unless accompanied by symptoms such as shortness of breath or dizziness in older individuals. In such cases, immediate medical attention is advised.
Should a consistently high resting heart rate be detected, Dr. Doran advises medical consultation, as it could indicate arrhythmia like atrial fibrillation, particularly in older adults. Although not life-threatening, this condition does increase the risk of blood clots and typically requires treatment. To manage a high resting heart rate, understanding its underlying cause is essential, as per Dr. von Schwarz. This could range from high caffeine intake to chronic anxiety.
Regardless of an individual’s resting heart rate, regular physical activity is a universal recommendation for supporting cardiovascular health. The American Heart Association prescribes at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. Maintaining an active lifestyle not only aids in heart health but also fosters overall well-being, allowing for a more peaceful rest.