HEALTH

How Resting Heart Rate Reflects Current and Future Health

Your heart rate can tell you a lot about your health now, and in the future.

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By Maddy Barney

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We’ve already talked about how heart rate is related to fitness levels and what it can tell us about our own fitness, but what can it tell us about our current and future health? What can physical activity, in general, do for our health now and in the future?

Cardiovascular training has shown to reduce heart rate, and individuals who participate in regular cardiovascular exercise claim an improved quality of life, as well as improved circulation. A lower resting heart rate means the heart is beating fewer times per minute. As the relaxed state of the heart is prolonged, more blood is able to fill up in the chamber, and with each beat, more blood is pumped around the body than if the heart was beating quicker. Less beating means less work! While we’re young, our hearts are fresh and strong, but as we age, the wear and tear of the years takes a huge toll on the heart, which can beat approximately 42 million times a year! The less work a heart has to do over a lifetime, the longer it’ll last.

The most efficient way to decrease your heart rate and the daily workload placed on it is to engage in regular exercise. There are many forms of exercise, including cardio work, weight training, calisthenics, and loads more. Workouts that raise your heart rate will condition that important organ the most, helping to lower your overall heart rate.

Regular exercise like this has also shown to have an effect on many aspects of our bodies, with just a handful of the benefits being a decrease in blood pressure, improved cognitive function (brain power!), and increased fluid circulation. This article will look at each of these three aspects in more detail.

We now know that a low heart rate can help reduce wear and tear on the heart over the years. But what about blood pressure? That too has an effect on heart rate. Blood pressure refers to the pressure of blood as it travels through the arteries. The higher the amount of pressure (or resistance) in the arteries, the harder the heart has to pump to push blood through. If the pressure is high, the heart can’t pump out a lot of blood with each push. Therefore, heart rate increases to accommodate that pressure. A lower blood pressure means less work for the heart and hence, a lower heart rate. Regular exercise can help reduce blood pressure.

A lower resting heart rate also improves cognitive function. Also referred to as ‘brain power’, cognitive function measures how well our brain can function, so to speak. This doesn’t necessarily just mean our IQ, but our problem solving skills too. Studies have shown that exercising will have an immediate positive effect on brain function.

So, if you need to study for a test or are just about to take an exam, try and squeeze in a quick 20-30 minute workout, and your brain power should improve. Exercising regularly has also shown to reduce stress and anxiety, as well as improve symptoms of depression.

Long term, it’s even been proven to reduce the risk of developing any cognitive disorders like Alzheimer's or Parkinson’s disease.

Another aspect of the body that a lower heart rate improves is the circulation of our bodily fluids. As we get older, our bodies get stiffer. We bet that sometimes you feel like an 80 year old getting up in the morning! This stiffness is due to a decrease in the fluids inside our bodies, such as plasma and extracellular fluids. Over time, small blockages in the muscles and tissues build up and reduce the amount of fluid that is sent to them. Exercise stimulates the dilation of blood vessels and increases the amount of blood and nutrients allowed to flow through. So, if you’ve got stiff joints, this can be helped with some exercise. Start slowly with a good warm up to really get the blood flowing, and even basic stretching every morning can help reduce stiffness throughout the day.

To summarize; regular cardiovascular exercise can prolong our heart’s longevity. With a lower heart rate and less work, it can literally last longer. Decreasing your blood pressure will reduce the level of resistance the heart has to work against, which over the years, will reduce wear and tear. Regular exercise has shown to have a positive effect on cognitive function, mood, and may even reduce the risk of developing cognitive disorders. If you’re feeling stiff, get moving, start slow, and build up to get the fluids flowing to those joints and muscles for a long-lived, healthy heart.

Maddy has worked in the health and fitness industry for 5 years. She has a bachelors in Exercise Science and has recently received her Masters in Exercise Physiology. She has worked with a wide demographic of clients as a Personal Trainer and loves helping people reach their goals and continue to grow.  She is an outdoor enthusiast and dedicates her workouts to rock climbing, hiking and whatever new experiences may come her way.

Main Photo Credit: Denys Prykhodov/shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit: fizkes/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: FXQuadro/shutterstock.com