A study by Canadian researchers has found a direct link between heart rate at rest and the risk of death in people with stable heart disease. The researchers analyzed data from two major clinical trials that followed more than 31,500 patients over four years. The trials were undertaken to determine whether the use of medications could reduce the number of heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure in people over 55 with established but stable heart disease.

The study found that heart disease patients with baseline heart rates of over 70 beats per minute had a 39 percent increased risk of suffering a major cardiovascular event; a 77 percent increased risk of cardiovascular disease death; and a 65 percent increased risk of death from all causes compared to patients with the lowest heart rate-58 beats per minute or less. The researchers concluded that a higher resting heart rate is a risk factor for a shorter life expectancy.

As opposed to a high heart rate, which can affect heart muscle function, a low heart rate is believed to put less stress on heart blood vessels and may inhibit cholesterol build-up, lowering the risk for heart attack and stroke. Normally the heart beats between 60 and 100 times per minute. In people who exercise regularly or take medications that slow the heart, the rate may drop to the 50s. The heartbeat of elite athletes is in the 40 beats per minute range.

Some factors that contribute to a fast resting heartbeat are smoking, chronic stress, and a sedentary lifestyle. Here are some ways to slow things down:

  • Don't smoke. Each puff of nicotine from tobacco smoke raises heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Limit your alcohol intake. Alcohol is a vasodilator-it makes the peripheral blood vessels relax allowing more blood to flow through the skin and tissues, resulting in a drop in blood pressure. To maintain sufficient blood flow to the organs, the heart rate increases. To reduce the amount of stress alcohol puts on the heart, the American Heart Association suggests limiting intake to two drinks a day for men and one a day for women.
  • Reduce or eliminate caffeine from your diet.
  • Avoid using stimulants. Some stimulants found in cough and cold medications and in herbal or nutritional supplements can cause irregular heart rhythms. Read the product label on any medications, herbal remedies, and supplements and check with you doctor to make sure that they are safe for you to take.
  • Get regular exercise.


CTV News Ottawa. "High resting heart rate may shorten life: study."