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Resting Heart Rate: Normal, High & Low + Ways to Improve

Written by Helen Quach, BS (Biochemistry) | Reviewed by Biljana Novkovic, PhD | Last updated:

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Are you looking for a good indicator of your fitness and heart health? One that is also inexpensive and easy to measure and track? Look no further. Your resting heart rate ticks all those boxes. Keep reading to find out if your pulse is normal and to learn more about low and high resting heart rates, their causes, and their health effects.

What is Your Resting Heart Rate?

Your resting heart rate, or pulse, is measured when you are still, calm, and not partaking in any physical activity. It is calculated as the number of heartbeats per minute. It is easy to measure, inexpensive, and can tell you a lot about your health.

You can measure your heart rate simply by checking your pulse. Place two fingers either at your wrist or your neck. Once you feel the pulse, count the beats for 30 seconds and multiply the number by two in order to get beats per minute (bpm). Alternatively, many devices, such as the apple watch, have the option to track your heart rate.

It’s best if you can check your resting heart rate first thing in the morning before you get up. Your pulse is lower when you are lying down compared to when standing up [1]. Also later, during the day, your pulse may get elevated because of stress or physical activity.

Normal Range – How Do You Compare?

Resting heart rate normally ranges from 60 – 100 bpm [2].

Being normal doesn’t mean you are healthy though. For example, with a heart rate of 90 beats per minute, while you may not have a medical condition, you are definitely not fit.

Usually, the better shape you’re in the lower your heart rate will be. Basically, you train your heart to work more efficiently by working out. For example, a professional athlete can have a normal resting heart rate as slow as 40 beats per minute [3, 4, 5].

It’s important to know that both high or low heart rate can point to an underlying health issue.

You should consult a healthcare professional if your resting heart rate is consistently above 100 bpm, or if you are not a trained athlete but your heart rate is below 60 bpm. This is especially the case if you are experiencing symptoms such as weakness, shortness of breath, fainting spells, and chest pain.

Low Resting Heart Rate

Heart rate below 60 bpm is considered slow. It is medically referred to as bradycardia. Unless you are a professional athlete, low heart rate is a cause for concern – it means your heart is not able to pump blood effectively to all the organs and tissues that need it [6].

Symptoms of Low Resting Heart Rate

Low heart rate can cause the following symptoms [6]:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Fainting
  • Poor cognitive function (brain fog)
  • Shortness of breath and low tolerance to physical activity (tiring easily)

Causes of Low Resting Heart Rate

  • Exercise and physical training. Trained athletes have a slower pulse compared to untrained people. This is sometimes called “athlete’s heart” [7]. If you are an athlete, a slower resting heart rate is considered normal.
  • Hypothyroidism. People with underactive thyroids (hypothyroidism) have a slower resting heart rate than healthy people [8, 9, 10].
  • Infections. Some viral and bacterial infections can decrease one’s heart rate [11, 12, 13, 14]. This can happen, for example, in infections such as Lyme disease [15, 16].
  • Drugs. Many different drugs can slow down your pulse. They include [17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24]:
    • Narcotics and analgesics
    • Opioids and cannabinoids, used to manage pain
    • Corticosteroids, used to treat inflammation
    • Beta blockers, drugs that reduce your blood pressure
    • Anti-clotting agents
    • Antidepressants
  • Heart attack and heart disease. Heart attack and heart disease can result in a slower resting heart rate [25, 6].
  • Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy can damage the heart muscle, which can slow down the resting heart rate [26].
  • Sleep apnea. In severe cases of obstructive sleep apnea, the pulse can slow down to 16 bpm [27, 28].
  • Kidney Failure. Kidneys are responsible for removing most of the excess potassium. In kidney failure, there are elevated blood levels of potassium (hyperkalemia) which can decrease heart rate [29, 30].
  • Anorexia. Patients with anorexia often have a lower heart rate. In one study, 16 out of 23 patients (70%) had a heart rate below 50 bpm [31, 32].
  • Genetic Disorders. In some cases, a low heart rate can be due to rare hereditary disorders [33].

Ways To Increase Resting Heart Rate

Apart from being a highly trained athlete, a slow heart rate is usually caused by an underlying issue. You should consult your doctor to find and treat the cause.

High Resting Heart Rate

You have a high resting heart rate if your pulse is above 100 bpm. This is medically referred to as tachycardia [34].

In most cases, an elevated heart rate is due to exercising, an emotional reaction, or stress. However, it can also be a result of a serious underlying health issue [34].

Symptoms of High Resting Heart Rate

When your heart is beating fast it can fail to effectively pump blood to the rest of the body. As a result, your tissues may not get enough oxygen. This can result in [34, 35]:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Rapid pulse and palpitations (racing or pounding heart)
  • Flushing
  • Weakness
  • Fainting (syncope)
  • Chest pain

Causes of High Resting Heart Rate

  • Physical Inactivity. The fitter you are the slower your pulse will be. Inactive people have higher resting heart rates than active people [36, 37].
  • Stress. When your stress response is activated, it increases your heartbeat. This is true for both short-term and long-term stress [38, 39]. In an observational study of 634 people, people with higher stress levels and low socioeconomic status had higher resting heart rates [40].
  • Anxiety. People with anxiety and panic attacks have increased heart rates [41, 42].
  • Smoking. Smokers’ hearts beat faster than non-smokers’. The more a person smokes, the higher their resting heart rates [43, 44].
  • Obesity. Overweight and obese people have higher resting heart rates than people with healthy weights [45, 46].
  • Sleep deprivation [47]
  • Hyperthyroidism. Patients with overactive thyroids (hyperthyroidism) have higher resting heart rates than healthy people [48, 10].
  • Heart Disease. Elevated heart rate can be due to the damage caused to the heart muscle by heart disease [49, 50, 51, 52].
  • Anemia. People with anemia often have faster pulse [53, 54].
  • High or low blood pressure. If you have either high or low blood pressure, you may have an elevated heart rate [55, 56].
  • Severe bleeding. Blood loss increases one’s pulse [56].
  • Too much alcohol [57, 58]
  • Caffeine [59, 60]
  • Recreational drugs. Drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines, and cannabis can increase your heart rate [61, 62, 63, 64, 65].
  • Pharmaceuticals. Several drugs can increase your heart rate, including antiarrhythmic drugs, vasodilators, psychotropics, antimalarials, antibiotics, and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors [66, 67].
  • Fever [68, 69, 69]
  • Electrolyte imbalances. Electrolytes need to be in balance in order for the heart to be able to function properly. Imbalances such as low potassium or low magnesium can increase a person’s pulse [70, 71, 72, 73].

Health Effects of High Resting Heart Rate

1) High Resting Heart Rate is Linked with Diabetes

Elevated resting heart rate is related to sympathetic nervous activity (fight or flight response), which is linked to insulin resistance and increased insulin levels [74].

In a cross-sectional study of over 9k people, high resting heart rate was associated with high glucose levels (pre-diabetes) [74].

In another study of 15k adults, higher resting heart rates were associated with diabetes and death due to diabetes [75].

2) High Resting Heart Rate Increases Heart Disease and Stroke Risk

Faster heart rate is linked to a higher risk of developing hypertension (high blood pressure) [55].

In two meta-analyses, researchers found that a high resting heart rate was associated with an increased risk of heart disease, heart failure, stroke, and heart-disease-related mortality (risk of death) [76, 77].

3) Resting Heart Rate is Associated with Cancer Recurrence

In an observational study of 300 colon cancer patients, those with a resting heart rate of 81 bpm or above had a significantly higher risk of cancer recurrence [78].

4) High Resting Heart Rate is Associated with Increased Risk of Death

Various studies (2 meta-analyses and a prospective study) showed that people with higher resting heart rates, especially older adults, have a higher risk of dying (all-cause mortality) [79, 76, 80].

Ways to Decrease Resting Heart Rate

  • Exercise. Exercising regularly can help slow your pulse. Increased physical activity is associated with a lower resting heart rate [7].
  • Manage Stress/Relax. Try to reduce your stress levels. Some stress-relieving activities include meditation, yoga, and listening to calming music [38, 39, 81, 82].
  • Quit Smoking [44, 43]
  • Lose weight if overweight [45, 46].
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids. People who consume more fish in their diet tend to have slower heart rates [83]. In a meta-analysis of 30 studies, fish oil was shown to significantly reduce heart rate. However, the effects would show only if the trial lasted 12 weeks or longer [84]. In a study of 18 men who had a heart attack, omega-3 fatty acids decreased resting heart rates by about 5 bpm [85].
  • Chromium. Chromium decreased resting heart rate in 70 patients with metabolic syndrome and impaired glucose tolerance [86].

Is Your Heart Rate Irregular?

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About the Author

Helen Quach

BS (Biochemistry)

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