The number of times your heart beats while at rest may predict your risk of death. A newer study from Dr Xavier Jouven (Hôpital Européen Georges Pompidou, Paris, France), and colleagues showed that minor increases in resting heart rate bumps up our risk of death by 20%. Conversely, a reduction in heart rate shows a 14% reduced risk of death. The research group studied healthy police officers who had no additional risk of heart disease, studying the men over a five year period.
The scientists are not certain whether their findings can be applied to women or other groups of individuals. Nevertheless, past studies have supported their findings. Past theories include the possibility that increased heart rate induces stress on the walls of the artery and heart, contributing to mortality.
The researchers studied men who were healthy, following them for five years. The study took place between 1967 and 1972 and included 5139 subjects. The authors say "We found that change in HR over 5-year period conferred additional information beyond HR at rest and the usual risk factors, [and] was an independent predictor of mortality in middle-aged men."
Stress, obesity and underlying health problems, such as thyroid disorders, can contribute to increased resting heart rate. The question of whether or not working to change your resting heart rate will reduce your risk of death requires more study, though there is no question that exercise is good for heart health. Unknown causes should be diagnosed by your physician.
Regular exercise slows the heart, reduces stress and helps to combat obesity. Normal resting heart rate varies with age. Healthy adults should maintain a resting heart rate between 60 and 80 beats per minute. Athletes have much slower heart rates.
According to Dr. Jouven, "We knew before that if a person has a high heart rate, they have a high mortality. Now this article shows we are advancing in the research concerning the potential association between HR and mortality."
Research takes time. For now, it may be best to consider the study important. Focus on reducing your risk of death through lowering your heart rate by reducing stress, and keeping your weight in check.
Kathleen Blanchard RN
Source: Jouven X, Empana JP, Escolano S et al. Relation of heart rate at rest and long-term (>20 years) death rate in initially healthy middle-aged men. Am J Cardiol