10 Simple Ways to Get a Healthy Heart Rate
Your heart may be beating faster than you realize, and that can be really hard on your ticker. Here's why a slower pace is better, and how to tame that beat.
Why a healthy heart rate matters
One of the factors that can accurately predict your risk of heart problems may be how fast your heart beats when you're at rest. This is a mark of how hard your heart has to work to circulate your blood. "At a higher rate, the heart needs more oxygen, stressing the cardiovascular system," says Kim Fox, MD, of the Royal Brompton Hospital in London. A Danish study that followed over 2700 participants for 16 years showed that an elevated resting heart rate is a risk factor for death, independent of physical activity level or other cardiovascular risk factors. "The higher your resting heart rate, the harder your heart is working which can indicate an increased risk of cardiovascular conditions such as heart disease and high blood pressure," says fitness expert Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of 2 Day Diabetes Diet.
Know how to take your heart rate
Taking your heart rate can help assess your overall health, as well as specific cardiovascular problems like holiday heart syndrome—learn more about this scary threat. So what is a healthy resting heart rate? According to the American Heart Association, people over 10 years old should have a rate between 60 and 100 beats per minute (well-trained athletes can aim lower, between 40 and 60). To take your pulse and find your heart rate, locate it on your wrist toward your thumb. Use your first two fingers to count the beats in 15 seconds, then multiply by four (or count for 30 seconds and double it). You can also count for the full minute. Repeat for an accurate reading. You'll be the most relaxed first thing in the morning or after sitting still for about 10 minutes, so that's the ideal time to take it. "Keeping your heart rate within a healthy range prevents your heart from working overtime," Palinski-Wade says.
Increase your physical activity
Lowering your heart rate—one of the top ways to reduce heart disease risk—can be accomplished through good old exercise. Athletes pride themselves on it: A lower resting heart rate indicates they're in better physical shape, so their hearts don't have to pump as hard. "A lower resting heart rate in a healthy individual usually indicates an increased level of aerobic fitness," Palinski-Wade says. "Moderate exercise—working out at 60 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate—can be an effective way to increase cardiovascular fitness and therefore reduce resting heart rate." But if you have any medical conditions, you should ask your doctor what a safe heart rate range would be to aim for during exercise.
Try aerobic exercise
Trying the absolute best anti-aging workout can also benefit your heart rate. "Interval training, such as HITT (high-intensity interval training), is a highly effective way to elevate heart rate over a set period of time, and therefore can quickly increase cardiovascular fitness," Palinski-Wade says. Ironically, boosting your heart rate while exercising actually lowers your resting heart rate. And in general, "aerobic or cardiovascular exercise which elevates heart rate has been found to be the most effective form of exercise to lower resting heart rate," she says. But if you find this type of workout too intense, search out another fun activity that gets your heart pumping. "Any form of exercise where you boost heart rate, whether that be jogging, dancing, or brisk walking, will boost cardiovascular fitness if done regularly, lowering resting heart rate over time," Palinski-Wade says.
One of the factors that can predict your risk of heart problems is your body mass index (BMI). (Here's a quick explainer on BMI if you need a refresher.) So it's not surprising that losing weight, which also goes along with exercising, can impact your heart rate. According to Howard LeWine, MD, of Harvard Health, the larger the body, the more the heart must work to supply it with blood."If overweight, moderate weight loss may help to reduce resting heart rate," Palinski-Wade says. Research from the University of Utah showed that weight loss in obese patients led to a significant decrease in resting heart rate.
Get a fitness tracker
You can now get a sports bra that tracks your heart rate—but some fitness trackers like Fitbit will work as well. According to a Stanford study, most fitness trackers the researchers tested measured heart rate within five percent. "A fitness tracker that monitors heart rate can help you to see both your resting heart rate as well as your heart rate during exercise," Palinski-Wade says. "By tracking heart rate during exercise, you can ensure you are increasing your exertion level to elevate heart rate into the ideal range to boost fitness. You can also use trackers to help prevent over-exerting yourself."
Participate in the Apple Heart Study
One of the technology trends you can expect to see dominate 2018 is the merging of healthcare and tech. Case in point: Monitor not only your heart rate but your risk for atrial fibrillation (AFib), or irregular heart rhythms that are a leading cause of stroke, with the Apple Heart Study app on your Apple Watch. The Apple Watch's sensor detects the amount of blood flowing through the wrist, and if it identifies an irregular rhythm you'll be notified. The research is being conducted with Stanford University. "Through the Apple Heart Study, Stanford Medicine faculty will explore how technology like Apple Watch's heart rate sensor can help usher in a new era of proactive health care central to our Precision Health approach," said Lloyd Minor, Dean of Stanford University School of Medicine.
Get your potassium
One of the signs you're not getting enough potassium is an abnormal heart rate, so eat enough of the nutrient to maintain a healthy heart rate instead. "A low potassium level may trigger a rapid heartbeat, so consuming potassium rich foods on a regular basis may help to regulate heart rate levels," Palinski-Wade says. "Since the majority of Americans fall short of consuming the recommended amount of potassium each day, focusing on adding potassium-rich foods to the diet—instead of taking a supplement—may be an effective way to reduce resting heart rate." This doesn't just mean bananas: Dark green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, potatoes, and avocado all contain potassium. Avocados have also been shown to reduce blood lipids (ie, cholesterol), and according to Harvard Medical School, high cholesterol restricts blood flow, which can make your heart work harder and beat faster.
Eat a fishy diet
Wondering how to have your most heart-healthy day? Try eating some omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon and other fish. Although research has been mixed on the effects of omega-3s on heart health, studies have shown the nutrient to be effective in lowering heart rate. "Aiming to include at least 2 servings—3 ounces per serving—of fatty fish per week may be another beneficial way to reduce resting heart rate," Palinski-Wade says.
One of the telltale signs you're more stressed than you realize may be a fast heart rate. Everyone has had that feeling of your heart pounding after a nerve-wracking event—that's our body ramping up adrenaline in preparation for "fight or flight." But chronic stress means the body stays in this state for long periods of time, and this can take a toll on your ticker. Although it's not totally clear how stress affects the heart, studies have shown a link between stress and increased heart rate. In the short-term, deep breathing, visualization, and other relaxation techniques can help bring down a temporarily elevated pulse. Over time, though, you'll need to make changes to reduce the stress in your life or address anxiety or other mental health issues that are causing this stress response.
Take up yoga or meditation
Some of the best ways to prevent stress and heart disease are the ancient practices of yoga and meditation. Yoga has been shown in research to reduce stress and improve cardiovascular function. "Although exercise such as yoga does not increase heart rate as much as aerobic exercise, the stress reduction benefits of this exercise may help to reduce resting heart rate over time," Palinski-Wade says. According to Harvard Medical School, performing meditation or other stress-reducing techniques also lowers the resting heart rate in the long-term.
Get a good night's sleep
It's true: You can sleep your way to better heart health. "When you sleep, your heart rate dips and your blood pressure decreases, which are important to heart health," says sleep expert Richard Shane, PhD, creator of the Sleep Easily method. "When you don't get enough sleep, your heart may not have enough time to lower your blood pressure to necessary levels, leading to increased levels of high blood pressure." According to the National Sleep Foundation, research shows that people who get less than six hours of sleep are at an increased risk of heart attack. Get seven to nine hours of shut-eye to ensure your body lowers your heart rate for a sufficient amount of time. Here are some little changes you can make to get better sleep in just one day.