Heart rate is important because the heart’s function is so important. The heart circulates oxygen and nutrient-rich blood throughout the body. When it’s not working properly, just about everything is affected. Heart rate is central to this process because the function of the heart (called “cardiac output”) is directly related to heart rate and stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped out with each beat).
Measuring your heart rate takes only a minute: You simply find your pulse (most easily located on your neck or the inside of your wrist) and set a timer for 60 seconds. Count the number of times you feel a beat during that minute. That number is your heart rate, which is measured in beats per minute (BPM).
A normal heart rate is usually stated as 60 to 100 beats per minute. Slower than 60 is bradycardia (“slow heart”); faster than 100 is tachycardia (“fast heart”). But some experts believe that an ideal resting heart rate is closer to 50 to 70. Regardless of what is considered normal, it’s important to recognize that a healthy heart rate will vary depending on the situation.
Of course, you should not use this information to self-diagnose or make any radical lifestyle changes without first talking to a medical professional. While you can measure your heart rate on your own, you aren’t your doctor. And you should always consult your doctor before prescribing yourself any medical advice. That being said, there are some interesting facts your heart rate can tell you about your health.
Thyroid Health: Your thyroid the butterfly-shaped organ in your neck produces hormones that help your body function correctly. If it’s not making enough, it means you have hypothyroidism, which could cause your heart rate to be low. On the other hand, if it’s over performing and pumping out extra hormones, you have hyperthyroidism, which can raise your heart rate. Your doctor can test your thyroid function with a blood test.
Stress: Stress affects your body in a few ways, some of which are more dangerous than others. One of the more immediate effects of stress is an elevated heart rate. The American Heart Association explains that stress causes a release of adrenaline, which in turn elevates your heart rate as part of the “fight or flight” response. You’ve probably felt this effect when it’s immediate, during a short-term stressor such as a sudden fall or when you’re surprised. But an elevated heart rate can occur as a result of chronic stress as well, though it may not be as noticeable.
Hydration: Minerals in your body with an electric charge are called electrolytes. If you drink too much water or not enough, it can throw off the ratio of electrolytes to water in your system, which messes with your body chemistry.If your potassium, calcium, or magnesium levels are very low, that can induce arrhythmias [abnormal rhythms], which can manifest as a higher heart rate.
Over Intake of Caffeine: It’s not super clear whether or not you can really ever drink too much coffee. It’s antioxidants have some great health benefits. However, a large amount of caffeine can seriously ramp up your heart rate. A study in the Journal of Caffeine Research determined that heart rate increased in both forcefulness and speed in study participants who ingested caffeine. However, a study in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine showed that though heart rate can increase with caffeine consumption, some individuals have developed a tolerance to the chemical’s effects.
Enough Sleep: Sleep deprivation has both long- and short-term effects, one of which could be an impact on your heart rate. A study presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) connected just one night of poor sleep with an elevated heart rate.
Drugs (including prescription ones): Certain medications can reset your heart rate readings and give you a new normal.Beta blockers and calcium channel blockers are the main ones that can lower a heart rate.Both relax your heart, which can slow it down. That’s not necessarily dangerous, but check with your doctor if you have any concerns.
Risk of Diabetes: Heart health and risk of diabetes seem to be connected, according to research in the Journal of Diabetes Investigation. The study showed a link between higher heart rates and incidences of Type 2 diabetes. Additional research published in Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases showed that increases in resting heart rate were correlated with a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes later in life, while a reduced resting heart rate was correlated with a lower risk. A higher heart rate certainly isn’t a guarantee of developing diabetes, but it’s worth mentioning any changes you notice to your doctor. Together, you can evaluate your lifestyle and diet in order to make healthy changes that may lower your diabetes risk.
Fever: A higher heart rate could actually be an early sign that you’re getting sick. When your body temperature elevates, so does your heart rate. A study in the Emergency Medicine Journal showed that every degree Celsius increase in body temperature results in an average of 10 additional beats per minute. Did you get your flu shot this year?
Physical Fitness: You probably can feel your heart racing during a workout, but did you know your workouts also affect your heart rate when you’re at rest? Your resting heart rate changes depending on your level of physical fitness. When you work out regularly, your heart becomes more efficient at pumping blood. When it’s able to do so more efficiently, your resting heart rate decreases.Someone who is just getting started at the gym might have a normal resting heart rate, but an athlete or otherwise physically well-trained individual will have a resting heart rate closer to 40 BPM.
Intensity of Workouts: If you’re not sure how much you’re benefiting from your workouts, your heart rate could be a useful tool. Tracking your heart rate during exercise can help you gauge whether you need to step it up or scale it back. Everyone’s heart rate is different, so before you can fully use this tool, you should figure out your maximum heart rate.You can estimate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. The higher your heart rate during a workout, the higher the intensity.Getting at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise, during which your heart rate hits 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate. If during cardio workouts you’re finding that your heart rate doesn’t get that high, you may want to consider switching up your routine or kicking things up a notch.
Risk of Heart Disease: A study in the journal Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases shows a strong correlation between elevated heart rate and incidence of heart disease and heart attacks.Having a lower resting heart rate is a sign of better heart health and lower heart risk. Checking your heart rate in the morning to ensure it doesn’t escalate above the normal range of 60 to 100 beats per minute is advised.