A report published last year in the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggests that resting heart rate (RHR) can be used as to predict your chance of keeling over in the next two decades.
The study of over 1.2 million people found that those who have a RHR of 80 bpm are 45% more likely to die of any cause in the next 20 years compared to those with the lowest measured heart rate of 45 bpm. Researchers found that the risk of dying from any illness or health condition raises by around 9% for every 10 beats per minute over. The chance of suffering a fatal heart attack or stroke rises 8%.
“The available evidence does not fully establish resting heart rate as a risk factor, but there is no doubt that elevated resting heart rate serves as a marker of poor health status,” said Dr Zhang.
“Our results highlight that people should pay more attention to their resting heart rate for their health, and also indicate the potential importance of physical activity to lower resting heart rate.”
What is a resting heart rate and why is it so important?
The basal or RHR is defined as the heart rate when a person is awake, in a neutrally temperate environment, and has not undergone any recent exertion or stimulation. Measurements are typically taken in the morning, after a rest day because the sympathetic nervous system is no longer active following strenuous exercise. A normal RHR for a healthy adult is anywhere between 60 and 80 beats per minute.
As you can see from the chart relating RHR and fitness level, the fitter you are, generally the lower your RHR. This is due to the heart getting bigger and stronger with exercise, and getting more efficient at pumping blood around the body. This means, at rest more blood can be pumped around with each beat, therefore less beats per minute are required.
So, how do you rank?
What affects my resting heart rate?
The above table provides only a generalization of your fitness and health. There are many other factors which may account for variations in heart rate such as medications and illness. Even the air temperature and weather can effect your individual readings.
Other factors that affect your RHR include:
- Age: As you age, due to the decline of physical fitness, your readings will typically go up.
- Dehydration: If you are feeling dehydrated your heart has to work harder to maintain an adequate body temperature and to provide enough oxygen and nutrients to muscles.
- Stress: If you are feeling stressed, the central nervous system orders the heart, brain and muscles, to prepare for a fight-or-flight situation. This leads to an increase in your RHR.
- Genome: Finally, your genome is another important factor that can influence your RHR.
Your individual readings can also be used to assess fatigue levels. If you find that your RHR is elevated from its normal average (by more than 7 bpm), that could be a sign that you’re not fully recovered from a hard workout. You should then consider taking a few days or a week to allow your body time to recover.
How to use wearables to lower your readings?
Whatever your RHR, there are things you can do to improve it. Regular amounts of high intensity exercise are particularly important, as they strengthen the heart and improve its efficiency. When you exercise regularly, your heart pumps more blood before it contracts, which results in fewer beats per minute. When your RHR decreases as a result of training, it is a sign that your aerobic fitness has improved.
Essential reading: Best devices for heart zone training
It is advisable to monitor how your resting heart rate is changing over time in order to know whether you are making progress. Luckily, new advances in technology have made this easier than ever. A number of activity trackers will automatically figure out your RHR for you. They will also provide a historical record, which you can tap into to see how your readings are changing over time.
Best wearables to track your resting heart rate
This is our pick of activity trackers you can use to track your RHR. It is worth noting, these are not medical devices so should not be treated as such.
Fitbit Charge 2
Fitbit’s latest fitness tracker is a sleek looking device that delivers solid improvements on its predecessors in a few areas. The tracker carries over all of the features found on the Charge HR, and upgrades them with an OLED display that is four times as large and a few other features.
Like the original device, the Charge 2 has an embedded optical heart rate sensor. Its heart rate tracking is continuous and accurate. Pressing a button on the side will allow you to check your heart rate in real time. It will also keep track of your RHR throughout the day and display the result within the app, plotting its course over a period of the last 30 days.
Plus there are a few new features that tap into your hear-rate readings. The most interesting and potentially useful one is called Cardio Fitness Level. It gives you a snapshot of your fitness level using a personalised Cardio Fitness Score, which is based on your VO2 Max.
Fitbit likes to think of the Charge 2 as a device for everyday users who want to get fitter and see how they are doing in real time on the wristband and also via the excellent free app and graphics-heavy desktop dashboard. The wearable definitely serves this purpose.
Microsoft Band 2
The Band 2 is without question a more premium version of the original device. The design is better and more sensors have been included. The software guides you to improved wellness by translating your daily activities, exercise and sleep quality into easy-to-understand charts that show you your progress in meeting your goals.
The optical heart rate monitor in Band 2 uses a light sensor to detect minor fluctuations in your capillaries. You can view info about the fluctuations in your heart rate that occur as you go about your daily activities, as well as your resting heart rate.
What you get with Microsoft Band 2 is a device that provides you with a comprehensive health dashboard, a whole lot of sensors squeezed into it, and something that doesn’t look too bad or fit too uncomfortably on your wrist.
The UP3 is loaded with state-of-the-art sensors that give you a better understanding of your health and fitness. Like all bands, Jawbone UP3 measures the steps you take, and like some, monitors the quality of your sleep. It has a sparkling new design and is astonishingly light.
While most other fitness trackers display raw figures and leave it at that, the UP will provide you with tips throughout the day on how to improve your health and fitness. We like the advanced sleep tracking and the ability to automaticaly recognise when you fall asleep. The ability to periodically check on your heart rate throughout the day in addition to viewing your RHR, is definitely a welcome addition to its wide range of features.
With the Vivosmart HR, Garmin has come out with a strong contender in the fight for your wrist space. This is a fully featured comprehensive fitness tracker which churns out fairly accurate data. The inclusion of a crisp new screen this time around, a barometer for tracking floors climbed, and most importantly a wrist based HR sensor, means that Garmin can go head to head now with Fitbit.
While the information on your heartrate is not EKG quality, it is reasonably accurate for a wrist based monitor. All in all, this is one of the best activity trackers you can buy today.