Your heart rate climbs and dips depending on what you’re doing, how you’re feeling and what’s happening around you.
But your resting heart rate is your baseline pulse. It’s a measure of how fast your heart beats when you’re completely at rest — sitting, sleeping or relaxing on the couch while binge-watching your favorite sitcom.
Resting heart rate can vary from person to person and day to day. But a high resting heart rate can be a red flag. “It’s usually a sign that something else is going on in the body,” says cardiologist Tamanna Singh, MD
Your heart rate gives a glimpse of your overall health and helps you spot potential health problems. You might think your heart ticks like clockwork, but how fast it beats changes throughout the day. It goes faster when you exercise or are nervous. It slows down when you’re relaxed or sitting still.
Heart rate refers to the number of heartbeats a person has per minute, also known as a pulse. Having a lower resting heart rate can signal good health.
Your Resting Heart Rate
Also known as your pulse, this is the number of times your heart beats per minute when you’re at rest. For adults, the normal range is between 60 and 100 beats per minute.
A resting heart rate varies from person to person. It depends on things like:
- Health conditions
- MedicationsBody size
Even emotions, temperature, and humidity outside can affect your pulse rate.
A lower resting heart rate is usually better when it comes to your health. It’s typically a sign your heart is working well. When it’s lower, your heart pumps more blood with each contraction and easily keeps a regular beat.
On the flip side, a high resting heart rate may mean your heart works extra hard to pump blood. If your pulse is consistently more than 100 beats per minute at rest, it’s a good idea to see your doctor. Over time, a high resting heart rate may affect how your heart works. A high rate can also raise your chances of cardiovascular disease.
A slower than normal pulse is common in people who are physically fit. If your resting heart rate is regularly below 60 beats per minute but you’re not active, see your doctor, especially if you feel dizzy or short of breath.
How to Measure Your Heart Rate
The best time to measure your pulse is in the morning, before you get out of bed and before you’ve had your morning coffee or tea.
You can check your heart rate at your wrist. Lightly place your second and third fingers of one hand on the inside of your other wrist, below the base of your thumb. You should feel your pulse under your fingertips. Count the number of beats in one minute. Repeat to make sure you get a consistent reading.
Lower your heart rate
A person’s heart rate may suddenly spike in response to factors such as emotional stress or things in their environment. Addressing these causes is the best way to reduce the heart rate in these situations.
Ways to reduce sudden changes in heart rate include:
- practicing deep or guided breathing techniques, such as box breathing
- relaxing and trying to remain calm
- going for a walk, ideally away from an urban environment
- taking a warm, relaxing bath or shower
- practicing stretching and relaxation exercises, such as yoga
- performing vagal maneuvers
It is also possible for people to lower their heart rate in the long term. Many lifestyle habits can contribute to this. This can affect the heart rate during physical activity or periods of stress.
Getting enough sleepA chronic lack of sleep puts stress on the whole body, including the heart. A 2020 study found that when people deviate from their usual bedtimes, it increases their resting heart rates.
Eating a nutritious, balanced diet
Eating a healthful diet can improve heart health and functioning. This diet should be rich in fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.
Foods and supplements rich in antioxidants and healthy fats may lower blood pressure, making it easier for the heart to pump blood.
For example, a 2021 study concluded that the antioxidant alpha-lipoic acid effectively lowers blood pressure. Potassium-rich foods also lower blood pressure by reducing sodium load.
Scientists know that a wide variety of foods may promote good heart health. Heart-healthy nutrients include:
- omega-3 fatty acids from fish, nuts, and grains
- polyphenols and tannins from tea and coffee
- vitamin A from leafy, green vegetables
- dietary fiber from whole grains, nuts, and most fruits and vegetables
- vitamin C from citrus and other fruits and leafy greens
Limiting alcohol intake
There is evidence that drinking alcohol could cause dehydration, although more research is still necessary on this topic. However, it remains possible that alcohol consumption could increase resting heart rate.
Alcohol is also a toxin, and the body must work harder to process and remove it. This may sometimes result in heart rate increases.
Limiting intake of stimulants
Stimulants can cause dehydration, increasing the heart’s workload. For example, there is evidence that high doses of caffeine can lead to dehydration. However, there is no reliable scientific evidence that typical tea or coffee consumption can cause an increased resting heart rate through dehydration.
When the body is dehydrated, the heart has to work harder to stabilize blood flow. A 2017 study found that a 335-milliliter drink of water could reduce resting heart rate over a 30-minute period. This decline continued for another 30 minutes. Drinking plenty of beverages throughout the day could lower a person’s heart rate.
The easiest and most effective way to achieve a lasting lower heart rate is to do regular exercise. For example, a 2018 meta-analysis found that regular exercise could consistently lower resting heart rate. Although any kind of exercise can be helpful, the authors suggest that yoga and endurance training may be the most beneficial.
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Maintaining a healthy body weight
Extra weight also puts stress on the body and heart. It is possible that this could lead to an increased heart rate. For example, extra weight could make exercise more challenging.
However, scientific evidence suggests that body weight is a poor predictor of heart rate.
Reducing or resolving sources of substantial long-term stress
Stress from work, caring for a loved one, or financial burdens all cause the heart and body to work harder to maintain its usual rhythm. For example, a 2018 review concluded that work-related stress is an important risk factor for coronary heart disease.
Seeking counseling or psychological servicePeople cannot always resolve stressful situations and life events on their own. Traumatic experiences, grief, and certain mental health conditions stress the body, making it harder for people to cope with everyday activities. In these cases, counseling and therapy may be helpful.
Getting outdoorsSome techniques for lowering heart rate can involve changing environments. For example, research in 2018 shows that spending time in less urbanized settings can reduce the physical and psychological measures of stress. This could be as simple as a trip to the local park.
Practicing relaxation techniquesRelaxation techniques may also have a positive effect on stress. However, a 2019 meta-analysis noted that many studies on this topic have been of poor quality. The authors still highlight the possibility that meditation could improve psychological well-being but that more research is necessary on the topic.
An elevated heart rate is typically a natural physical response to environmental or other stressors. However, a resting heart rate that is high for long periods can signal an underlying medical condition.
If someone’s average heart rate is unusually high because of an underlying medical condition, medical interventions may be necessary. As a 2021 review explains, beta-blockers have the power to reduce heart rate. Doctors may prescribe beta-blockers to treat a variety of conditions, such as:
- high blood pressure
- heart attacks
- coronary artery disease
- congestive heart failure
When to contact a doctor
In some circumstances, it is necessary to contact a doctor about a higher heart rate. These include if:
- There is no obvious cause for the increased heart rate.
- The increased heart rate is accompanied by other changes, such as shortness of breath, chest pain, blurry vision, or faintness.
- The increased heart rate continues for long periods, even while at rest.
A doctor should evaluate the thyroid, electrolytes, and blood counts. They may want to do other tests before they decide that a high heart rate is no cause for concern. That’s why it is always a good idea to contact a physician if a person meets any of these criteria.
Changes in heart rate happen naturally throughout the day. Resting heart rate is a sign of the heart’s health.
A consistently high heart rate may indicate health issues and could lead to negative outcomes.
However, many people are able to lower their resting heart rate through lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly.