An elevated resting heart rate is associated with an increased risk of death from all causes. This includes cardiovascular disease.

Are you familiar with what your pulse normally is when you’re at rest? If not, you’d better get familiar with it — because research shows that it’s a risk factor not to be ignored.

This is the conclusion by researchers from the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center; over 9,000 patients were studied.

This conclusion applies to tracking resting heart rate over time.

Study authors urge doctors to track the pattern of patients’ HRs over the years, rather than relying upon a single reading.

The Study Is Something to Think About

“Based on this study, we believe that an elevated heart rate seen over a number of years is worrisome, signifying that these patients need further evaluation to see what might be causing the high heart rate,” says lead investigator and cardiologist Dr. Peter Okin in the paper.

The researches followed patients for an average of five years, and found that readings of 84 beats/minute or more were associated with a 55 percent higher risk of cardiovascular death, as well as a 79 percent higher risk of all-cause death.

Cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension were adjusted for.

Normal RHR should be between 60 and 80 beats/minute according to some cardiologists, while others extend that range to 100 bpm.

  • A 16 percent greater risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and a 25 percent increased risk of death from all causes, came with every extra 10 beats/minute greater than normal resting heart rate.

Why would an elevated resting heart rate be associated with more cardiovascular disease anyways?

Faster resting heart rate increases automatic nervous system activities, and this heightened response is connected to increased risk of atherosclerosis (plaque buildup inside arteries) and abnormal heart rhythms, as well as heart ischemia (restricted blood supply).

“Heart rate remains a significant predictor of increased mortality,” says Dr. Okin in this report.

Should you panic if your resting pulse is frequently over 80 and especially 102 or so?

Most cardiologists are not concerned if a patient’s resting pulse is between 80 and 100 — especially if that patient shows no signs of cardiac abnormality elsewhere and reports no concerning symptoms.

But what if many times when you take your pulse, it’s a little above 100 — even though you’ve been at rest for a while?

“The resting heart rate range can be deceiving,” says Yaser Elnahar, MD, a cardiologist with Hunterdon Cardiovascular Associates in NJ, whom I interviewed for this article.

Dr. Elnahar continues, “The best way to look at this data is to evaluate resting heart rates in young professional athletes (40-60 beats per minute) — since their hearts are well-trained and more efficient at pumping the same amount of blood at less work.

“In people who exercise regularly, don’t smoke and don’t consume much caffeine, I would question the hydration, weight and any other medical conditions that are causing the fast resting heart rate.”

If such an individual keeps well-hydrated, tests negative for medical conditions, is of a healthy weight, restricts caffeine and doesn’t smoke — yet STILL often has a resting heart rate on the fast side (e.g., 102 or even in the 90s), then it’s quite possible that this person has too much anxiety going on.

Leading a stressful life can keep the heart rate on the fast side for extended periods.

The patient may be a jumpy or edgy type of person who can’t really maintain calmness for too long. Something is always up, giving that person the jitters.

The complete study is in the July 2, 2010 online European Heart Journal.

Five Ways to Lower Resting Heart Rate without Drugs

Dr. Elnahar has publications in the Journal of Atrial Fibrillation, the Journal of Clinical Medicine and Research, Reports in Medical Imaging, and more.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  
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