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What is resting heart rate (RHR) and what does it indicate about your health?

Due to physical inactivity, non-communicable chronic illnesses among people all over the globe has become a serious concern. Acute or prolonged stress, anxiety and depression too are highly responsible for an elevated level of normal resting heart rate among individuals. 

Resting heart rate watch

Source: Jens Mahnke/Pexels

When was the last time you checked your heart rate? If you have visitied a doctor at the hospital, you might have noticed that your doctor checks the pulse on your wrist or uses stethoscope to check heart and respiration rate as the intital assessment. 

Heart rate is simply the number of times your heart beats in 1 minute (60 seconds). 

Medical science suggests 60-100 beats per minute as the normal heart rate range for people of age 15 years and above. Your heart rate is an important indicator of your overall health and fitness level. An unusually low or high heart rate can indicate certain medical conditions. 

Like, for an athlete in top health condition, their normal resting heart rate can range from 40-60. But for a non-athlete individual RHR lower than 60 could indicate bradycardia, a serious health condition when your heart is unable to pump enough oxygenated blood to different parts of your body.

What is Resting heart rate (RHR) ?

Resting heart rate is your heart rate when you are at complete rest. For example while you are sitting, lying, reclining in a calm, relaxed state of body and mind. However, if you’re ill and are lying down, it does not indicate your RHR. Your RHR is measured with the help of your pulse using bare hands or using a pulse oxymeter. 

The best time to measure your normal resting heart rate is during the morning as soon as you wake up after a good deep sleep but, while you’re still lying on the bed. You should ensure measuring your RHR even before you check your phone, talk to others or drink water, coffee or tea.

During the resting heart rate situation, you heart pumps the lowest amount of blood to your entire body. To understand it the other way, your body easily sustains with the minimum amount of oxygenated blood pumped by your heart in normal resting condition.

You must note that not only the speed (rate) of heart rate is important, but the rhythm of heart beat is crucial too. An irregular heart beat during resting condition can be a sign of serious health condition.

Following factors can affect the resting heart rate

Heart rate can vary from individual to individual depending on various factors some of which are enlisted below:

  • Age
  • Physical fitness
  • Higher intensity exercise
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking habit
  • Caffeine or Alcohol consumption
  • Stress or Anxiety
  • Emotional state
  • Body position
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of proper sleep
  • Body size
  • Dehydration
  • Underlying illness or heath conditions
  • Ongoing medications. 

Normal Resting Heart Rate By Age

Even if the normal range for resting heart rate is 60-100, it varies from individual to individual. The table below shows the RHR by age according to the National Institute of Health.

[table id=1 /]
Age Normal Resting Heart Rate
Newborns age 0 to 1 month
70 to 190 bpm
Infants 1 to 11 months old
80 to 160 bpm
Children 1 to 2 years old
80 to 130 bpm
Children 3 to 4 years old
80 to 120 bpm
Children 5 to 6 years old
75 to 115 bpm
Children 7 to 9 years old
70 to 110 bpm
Children 10 years and older and adults (including seniors)
60 to 100 bpm
Athletes in top condition
40 to 60 bpm

RHR and the Autonomic Nervous System

Heart rate is basically controlled by the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Two brances of ANS, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) together regulate the heart rate. 

The SNS releases the hormones catecholamines-epinephrine and norepinephrine to accelerate the heart rate. The PNS releases the hormone acetylcholine to slow the heart rate. 

So, the reduction in heart rate is due to increase in activity of the parasympathetic nervous system and decrease in the sympathetic nervous system.

Heart rate is a powerful noninvasive tool in determining autonomic nervous system activity.

Effect of higher resting heart rate

A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that higher resting heart rate could increase the risk of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality.

Another study found that RHR between 68 and 80 bpm had lower risk of artial fibrillation (AF). Apart from the above range, both lower and higher RHR were associated with an increased risk of AF.

Similar study published in Open heart found that RHR was strongly positively associated with pulmonary heart disease for all ranges. But the probability for heart failure (HF) existed when RHR > 75 bpm.

Research also showed that for every 10 bpm increase in RHR, there is a 14% increased risk for a clinical Cardio Vascular Disease (CVD) event.

Similarly, a study published in Preventive Medicine found that the participants with higher RHR were less likely to be physically active and more likely to have higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure. These participants also had higher BMI, total cholesterol and fasting blood glucose levels. Researchers also concluded that favorable and optimal Cardio Vascular Health (CVH) was less likely to be associated with elevated RHR irrespective of sex, race/ethnicity and age.

Stress, anxiety and depression too can affect your heart rate and heart rate variability by deeply affecting the functions of your autonomic nervous system.

Yoga and Resting Heart Rate

However, if you are engaged in calming yoga poses that does not let you reach your target heart rate zone, you should consider other forms of physical activities that varies from moderate to vigorous intensity level or even include them in your yoga series in the form of warm up activities or strength training to achieve optimum benefit and meet the minimum weekly recommended duration of moderate to vigorous physical activities.

Sources:

Raghavendra, B., Telles, S., Manjunath, N., Deepak, K., Naveen, K., & Subramanya, P. (2013). Voluntary heart rate reduction following yoga using different strategies. International journal of yoga6(1), 26–30. https://doi.org/10.4103/0973-6131.105940

Telles, S., Raghavendra, B. R., Naveen, K. V., Manjunath, N. K., Kumar, S., & Subramanya, P. (2013). Changes in autonomic variables following two meditative states described in yoga texts. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.)19(1), 35–42. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2011.0282

Taelman, J., Vandeput, S., Spaepen, A., Van Huffel, S. (2009). Influence of Mental Stress on Heart Rate and Heart Rate Variability. In: Vander Sloten, J., Verdonck, P., Nyssen, M., Haueisen, J. (eds) 4th European Conference of the International Federation for Medical and Biological Engineering. IFMBE Proceedings, vol 22. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-540-89208-3_324

Telles, S., Joshi, M., Dash, M., Raghuraj, P., Naveen, K. V., & Nagendra, H. R. (2004). An evaluation of the ability to voluntarily reduce the heart rate after a month of yoga practice. Integrative physiological and behavioral science : the official journal of the Pavlovian Society39(2), 119–125. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02734277

About the Author

Picture of Sanjeev Yadav, M.A. Yoga, P.G. Psych., DNHE
Sanjeev Yadav, M.A. Yoga, P.G. Psych., DNHE

Mr. Sanjeev is a yoga professional specializing in applied yoga, psychology, and human excellence with over more than 8 years of experience as a health and life coach, well-being trainer, and psycho-yogic counselor. He is completing his Ph.D. dissertation in Yoga.

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