What is Heart Rate and how to keep your heart-rate under check?
The heart expands and contracts at a constant pace in order to push oxygenated blood to, and receive impure blood from, all over the body. This rhythm is called the heartbeat, and the pace is called a heart-rate. A heart-rate between 60 to 100 beats per minute (bpm) is considered healthy. A consistent heartbeat above 100 is considered a rapid heartbeat (condition called as tachycardia) while a consistent beat below 60 is considered a slow heartbeat (condition called bradycardia), both of which are unhealthy. Further, resting heart-rate is less than active heart-rate.
Incidentally, the heart-rate is not constant for anybody and depends on various parameters such as:
- Fitness and activity levels: Highly physically-active people like athletes, sportspersons, and regular exercisers have an active heart-rate between 60-100, and a resting heart-rate which can be as low as 40, both of which are healthy.
- Age: With advancing age, people can develop either tachycardia or bradycardia, while in younger years, the heart-rate is normal, all other parameters being the same.
- Cigarette smoking: Smokers have a higher heart-rate, as the chemicals in tobacco products affect the metabolism.
- History of heart disease: People with a family or personal history of heart-ailments may have higher or lower than normal heart-rate.
- Excessive cholesterol: This generally leads to heart-rate that’s higher than normal.
- Diabetes:Uncontrolled diabetes can affect the heart-rate, eventually triggering heart-ailments.
- Ambient temperature: Hot weather increases heart-rate as the heart pumps blood more, in order to cool the body to a healthy temperature.
- Position of the body: Standing up or getting up from a sitting or sleeping position can increase the heart-rate temporarily. While one is sleeping, lying down or sitting, the heart-rate tends to be lower.
- Exercise/activity: Most forms of exercise and physical activity increase the heart-rate to help the body deal with the extra demand for oxygenated blood.
- Emotions: Anger, fear, hatred, jealousy and excitation are known to increase heart-rate, while depression and feeling sad can lower the heart-rate.
- Medications: Several classes of medications affect the heart-rate which is why they are only prescribed by a doctor and are not available over the counter.
- Size of the body: People with a higher BMI (body mass index) have a higher heart-rate to deal with the excess demand for oxygenated blood.
Also Read: Impella Heart Pump – Necessity and Applications
What is ‘pulse’?
Pulse and heart-rate are often mistaken to be the same. However, they are not. ‘Pulse’ is a mechanism to check the heart-rate. Pulse can be checked by pressing the fore-finger and mid-finger gently on the neck, to the side of the wind-pipe and counting the beat. Alternately, you can gently press the fore-finger and mid-finger on the area between the bone and tendon, at the base of the thumb, on the inside of the wrist, of the opposite hand. These 2 methods are for the common man, while a doctor is familiar with more parts of the body where the pulse can be checked.
Why should the heart-rate be in check?
A healthy heart-rate is required for healthy functioning of the body.
Tachycardia, or a heart-rate that is constantly higher than normal leads to hypertension or a constant, high blood-pressure in the initial phase. The person feels as if the heart is skipping a beat once in a while. In later days, the person can experience angina or chest pain, dizziness, fatigue and shortness of breath (dyspnea). This can trigger a heart-attack or stroke eventually, and the risk is higher if the person is obese or has diabetes. Eventually, the heart-muscles get tired with the constant pumping at high speed and starts to slow down. This leads to low blood-pressure in some people. As a result, the body cells do not get enough of oxygenated blood, which leads to various complications.
Bradycardia, or a heart-rate that is constantly lower than normal leads to low blood-pressure. The person shows symptoms such as fatigue and dizziness. As mentioned above, the body does not get adequate oxygen for proper functioning, leading to several complications. Bradycardia too can weaken the heart-muscles eventually, causing a heart-failure or heart-attack.
That is why, its important to keep one’s heart-rate at a normal pace. You can check heart-rate at home, using easily-available devices and monitors that can be purchased online. If heart-rate is not kept in check, the person will eventually suffer from one or more of these:
- Chest pain (angina), heart attack, heart-failure or stroke
- Constant shortness of breath leading to weakness and low energy levels
- Low energy levels lead to lower activity levels
- Lower activity levels cause lower physical fitness in the long run
- The above factors create a vicious cycle that results in obesity over time
- Low blood-pressure and low blood-circulation, which can cause various complications over time
Also Read: Understanding the Heart of the Matter
How to keep the heart-rate in check
Over time, doctors and cardiac specialists have devised several ways that a common man can use to keep his/her heart-rate in check without going through much hassle.
- Exercise and physical activity: Like any other part of the body, regular exercise and physical activity strengthen the heart-muscles, help it work efficiently and keep the heart-rate normal. Get 30 to 45 minutes of exercise, 5 days a week, and these could be one or more of the following: Brisk-walking, cycling, yoga, swimming and weight-training.
- Quit smoking: Smoking narrows down blood-vessels which automatically pushes up blood-pressure and hence heart rate.
- Manage Stress: Stress and excitation produces hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol which increases the heart-rate. Do yoga, meditation or indulge in your favourite hobbies to reduce stress. Spending time with friends and family has the same effect too.
- Cut down on coffee and alcohol: Excessive consumption of coffee and alcohol can affect the heart-rate in most people.
- Reduce sodium intake: Cooking salt, baking soda and cooking soda contain sodium which in excess levels can increase the blood-pressure and hence heart-rate.
- Consume fish: Non-vegetarians can eat fish often to lower the heart-rate.
- Consume whole grains: Whole grains like wheat, brown rice and millets help reduce blood pressure, blood-sugar and cholesterol, leading to a healthy heart-rate. In contrast, refined wheat-flour (maida) is known to increase the risk of type-2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
- Include fresh produce in your diet: Fresh fruits and green-leafy vegetables are a rich source of vitamin K1 that is good for heart health. Include a wide range of leafy greens, fresh fruits and vegetables in every colour to get a wide range of vitamins and minerals in your food. More specifically, leafy-greens, beans, citrus fruits, bell-peppers and blueberries are known to reduce blood-pressure and improve cardiovascular health.
- Consume foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids reduce heart-rate and hence the risk of heart-attack. They also prevent irregular heartbeats and slow down the formation of plaque in arteries (condition called as atherosclerosis). These are found in fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel. Plant sources include walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, flaxseeds, chia seeds, olive oil, olives, avocados and soyabean tofu.
When none of the above work out, the doctors may perform interventions such as vagal manoeuvres, catheter ablation, medications, pacemaker implant, and surgery in rare cases. This is especially true of super-seniors (above 80 years of age).
NOTE: Take medications only when prescribed by your doctors, self-medication must be avoided under any circumstances.
Reviewed by Dr Suresh S Venkita, Group Medical Director, Kauvery Hospitals
Kauvery Hospital is globally known for its multidisciplinary services at all its Centers of Excellence, and for its comprehensive, Avant-Grade technology, especially in diagnostics and remedial care in heart diseases, transplantation, vascular and neurosciences medicine. Located in the heart of Trichy (Tennur, Royal Road and Alexandria Road (Cantonment), Chennai, Hosur, Salem and Bengaluru, the hospital also renders adult and pediatric trauma care.
Chennai – 044 4000 6000 • Trichy – Cantonment – 0431 4077777 • Trichy – Heartcity – 0431 4003500 • Trichy – Tennur – 0431 4022555 • Hosur – 04344 272727 • Salem – 0427 2677777 • Tirunelveli – 0462 4006000 • Bengaluru – 080 6801 6801
- Feb 09, 2023