Increase in Resting Heart Rate Over Time Linked to Heart Disease Death

Something as simple as your resting heart rate or pulse may provide important clues about your current and future heart health.

Dec. 20, 2011 -- Your resting heart rate or pulse may provide important clues about your current and future heart health.

It has been known that a high resting heart rate is a risk for heart disease. Now new research suggests that an increase in resting heart rate over time may actually place a person at greater risk for dying from heart disease and/or other causes in the future. The findings appear in the Dec. 21 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

For adults, a normal resting heart rate is usually between 60 to 100 beats per minute. Athletes tend to have lower resting heart rates.

"A healthy adult is expected to have about 70 beats per minute in resting heart rate and the point is to follow it over time -- if it increases more than 10 beats you may talk to your family doctor to get advice about lifestyle changes and/or get a thorough check of your [heart and blood vessel] system," study author Ulrik Wisloff, PhD, tells WebMD in an email.

Curious as to where you stand?

When you wake in the morning, find your pulse on your wrist or neck. Choose the spot that works best for you. Make sure there is a clock nearby. After you find the beat, count how many beats occur within one minute.

Increase in Resting Heart Rate Linked to Death

The study included nearly 30,000 men and women without known heart disease. Researchers measured their resting heart rate twice about 10 years apart. Compared to healthy people whose resting heart rate stayed less than 70 beats per minute during a 10-year period, those whose pulse was less than 70 beats per minute at the first measurement and then greater than 85 at the second were more likely to die from heart disease and other causes after 12 years of follow-up. 

Participants whose heart rate was between 70 and 85 at the first measure and then greater than 85 the next time it was measured were also more likely to die from heart disease or other causes.

Further study is needed, but the findings may help identify a group of seemingly healthy people who are at risk for heart disease before they develop any other signs or symptoms, the study authors conclude.

Understanding Changes in Resting Heart Rate

Robert J. Myerburg, MD, is a professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine who for 31 years served as chief of the school’s division of cardiology. “We have known for a long time that a higher heart rate is associated with increased risk for heart disease,” he says.

The people in the new study were healthy, he points out. The new study findings may not apply to people with heart disease.

Don’t panic about these findings, says Kousik Krishnan, MD. He is director of the Arrhythmia Device Clinic at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “People who have a heart rate that goes up over time may have some other underlying condition,” he says. “If you have a resting heart rate that is over 100, ask your doctor to do a physical exam to see if something else is going on.”

Suzanne Steinbaum, DO, says the study provides empowering information. She is a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “Resting heart rate gives us an indication about our heart health,” she says. “The best way to keep your resting heart rate down is aerobic exercise.”

This means that if your resting heart rate is edging up, your activity level has probably taken a dive. “You are still in control,” she says. “Start exercising more and see a doctor to make sure something else isn’t going on.”

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