Why Your Resting Heart Rate Could be a Matter of Life and Death

My dad was diagnosed with heart disease at age 45. He eventually died of a massive heart attack at age 51.

As a teenager, I remember watching my dad smoke a couple packs of Camel non-filter cigarettes and drink a few pots of coffee per day. Most days, he sat in silence and isolation due to his depression, and he drank alcohol and smoked marijuana in the evening to relax. Of course, that was on top of the prescription medications that he was taking.

I just kept thinking to myself, and praying, “God, I never want to live that life. Please, God, I never want to live that life.” I vowed to myself that I would do all that I could to avoid being diagnosed with heart disease at age 45. And God knows, I certainly did not want to die of a massive heart attack at age 51, if I could help it.

I’ve lived my entire adult life with a keen awareness of where I stand with my overall health and wellness and, more so within the last 25 years, of my mental health.

I am happy to say that I’ve never been diagnosed with heart disease and I just turned 50 on June 25. In fact, my resting heart rate is 46 beats per minute (bpm), and it’s been fairly steady since running college track.

You may wonder what your resting heart rate has to do with anything. Well, it has a lot to do with everything.

Here’s why. The Mayo Clinic says that a normal resting heart rate is 60 to 100 bpm. Most cardiologists agree that while this is a typical resting heart rate, it is certainly not an optimal resting heart rate. Your resting heart rate is an indicative measure of your overall health. In fact, a February 2016 study by the Journal of American Medical Association reports that your resting heart rate can impact your lifespan.

After enrolling 6,733 mostly middle-aged people, recording everyone’s resting heart rate at the beginning of the study, and following them for 10 years, they found:
  • If your resting heart rate was naturally slower than 50 bpm, survival was 29% higher.

  • If the resting heart rate was artificially lowered with medications to less than 50 bpm, the risk of death was 2.4 times higher.

  • If the resting heart rate was naturally faster than 80 bpm, there was a 49% higher chance of dying during the study.

  • If the resting heart rate was faster than 80 bpm, despite medications to slow the heart, the risk of death was 3.6 times higher.

The takeaway? A naturally slow resting heart rate is a good indicator of your overall health and has an impact on how long you will live.

If you don’t know your resting heart rate, it’s time you figure that out. Let’s do it now.

Take a moment to sit still. If you’ve been moving around, give yourself 15 minutes to settle.

To check your resting heart rate, simply find your pulse in either your wrist or neck. Then, set your cell phone timer and count the number of heart beats you have in one minute. This is your heart rate in beats per minute (bpm).

What’d you get?

As I said earlier, mine is 46. Yup, I know that’s pretty low—so low that it can be a cause for concern, especially for someone like myself, with a history of family heart disease. To ensure my low heart rate is normal and not caused by a condition called an arrhythmia, I made an appointment with the Cleveland Clinic cardiologists and wore a heart monitor for two weeks. The cardiologists concluded that, in fact, my low heart rate is due to my heart working efficiently based upon my lifestyle. That makes me so happy!

If your resting heart rate is too high, there’s hope for you to get it under control. Here are some tips that have helped me over the years:

  • Know your baseline! Check with your doctor to learn what’s going on with your heart.

  • Establish a mindfulness practice to to help you lower your stress levels. Your practice could include prayer, meditation, yoga, tai chi, journaling, repeating positive affirmations, and reading positive books.

  • Incorporate other exercise regimens like running, swimming, or biking. Most well-trained athletes have very low heart rates.

  • Maintain a healthy weight.

  • If you struggle with depression, seek out a counselor or a life and health coach.

I urge you to take control of your health and wellbeing. I realize it can be a struggle. If you need some help to get you on the right track, feel free to contact me to see how we can design a program that works for you!

If you are an organization or school leader and you are interested in helping your staff adopt these and other self-care and emotional intelligence strategies, be sure to contact me as I have a program that works.

Follow Diana on social media through #dpinspires for daily challenges on how to rise and commit to living your very best life. Download a free chapter or an audio sample of her book,  Inspiration in My Shoes by visiting her  website.

Resources: Dr. John Day

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