The term “heart disease” is a general term that is used to describe a wide range of diseases that affect the heart. The various types of diseases that fall under the term heart disease include diseases of the blood vessels, often called coronary artery disease; heart rhythm issues (arrhythmias), infections of the heart, and heart defects that individuals are born with, congenital heart defects.
Within many medical circles, the term “heart disease” is used interchangeably with the term “cardiovascular disease.”
Cardiovascular disease is typically associated with conditions that involve plaque build up along the inner walls of the arteries of the heart which, in turn, narrows the arteries and reduces blood flow to the heart.
This condition is called ischemic heart disease (IHD) and can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke. Ischemic heart disease is the most common form of heart disease. Additional types of heart conditions and issues, including infections and events that affect the heart muscle, valves or beating rhythm, also fall under the general term of heart disease.
The Nature of the Study
A new study is indicating that a high resting heart rate, and especially one that has been rising steadily over time, could predict a person’s likelihood of developing heart disease. The study results add to a massive body of evidence proving that a lower resting heart rate is generally a positive health indicator.
The study was conducted in Norway and involved almost 30,000 individuals of both sexes. None of the study participants had any history of heart disease. At the onset of the study, the participants’ resting heart rates were measured.
The participants were then tracked for a period of over 20 years. At the end of the study, it was found that subjects whose at-rest heart rates increased by 15 bpm (beats per minute) or more had double the likelihood of dying as a result of ischemic heart disease as compared to those who maintained the same heart rate. Ischemic heart disease is defined as a condition in which plaque builds up in the arteries, diminishing the flow of blood to the heart.
The study included a total of 15,826 women and 13,499 men, all of whom originated from Norway. Researchers from Trondheim, Norway’s Norwegian University of Science and Technology measured the resting heart rates of participants first in the period from 1984 to 1986, and once again in the period from 1995 to 1997. All of the subjects were analyzed once more in 2009 to determine their status of health.
Between 1997 and 2009, a total of 3,038 subjects died. Exactly 975 individuals died of heart disease, with 388 of those dying from ischemic heart disease in particular.
The subjects most likely to die as a result of ischemic heart disease during the study were those whose resting heart rates started below 70 bpm and finished above 85 bpm, by a margin of 90%. These same individuals were actually 50% more likely to die regardless of cause. Meanwhile, those whose heart rates lowered over the course of the study period were no more likely to live or die than those whose heart rates remained stagnant.
The researchers verified the accuracy of their results by noting that they accounted for various factors including smoking habits, physical activity levels and dietary choices.
Keeping a Low Resting Heart Rate
As mentioned earlier, current medical science maintains that a low resting heart rate is an indicator of positive health, and that higher resting heart rates often indicate that something is wrong. So, how do we go about keeping our resting heart rates low? Unfortunately, science hasn’t been able to pinpoint any guaranteed solutions. As of now, the most likely answers are as follows:
Improve your diet by cutting down on saturated fats and excess sodium and sugar. Eat a balanced diet consisting of natural, of-the-earth whole foods like lean meat, fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
Lower your cholesterol. You can reduce your LDL cholesterol levels naturally through dietary changes, or with the help of prescription drugs known as statins.
Engage in regular exercise. Your goal should be to get your heart rate up to its target level for at least 20 minutes, defined as an “aerobic effect,” at least a few times per week. This can be accomplished through aerobic exercise such as swimming, cycling and jogging.
You can measure your resting heart rate at home without the use of any special equipment. Simply locate your pulse and count the number of beats that occur in a 20-second period. Multiply the resultant number by 3 to determine your heart’s beats per minute (bpm).
High Resting Heart Rate: The Bottom Line
As of now, researchers aren’t sure whether a rising resting heart rate is a direct cause of heart disease in and of itself, or whether it’s simply a symptom of poor lifestyle choices that are primarily responsible for heart disease. Regardless, your goal should be to maintain a low resting heart rate, ideally of around 70 beats per minute.