In the McCleland household this is a contentious issue. Always was; always will be. This bone of contention raised its head some 20 years ago when I was training heavily in order to achieve my personal best [PB in runners-speak] over all distances up to and including a marathon. Anal would be too blasé an epithet to describe how I measured my runs: weather conditions, temperature, splits per kilometre, weight loss on the run & controversially from Janine’s perspective, my daily heart rate. Science has now come to my rescue and vindicated my standpoint. At the extreme, it also issues a warning when one’s resting pulse is too high. What does science now tell us?
Main picture: An X-ray of the heart with veins coloured blue and arteries red
Why did one’s heart rate suddenly feature in my thoughts this week? As most of you already know, Janine has just undergone her fifth back operation in five years. This is her last chance to walk again. Hence it has to be a success. On Tuesday night I studied her vital signs as she lay in ICU. Her diastolic reading was between 60 & 70 and the systolic was a constant 110. But what troubled me was her heart beat at between 100 & 110. This immediately resonated with me as I had read an article two weeks prior about the revised recommended maximum rate. Naturally to a large extent this reading was negatively influenced by the fact that she had just undergone a number of fusions. Hence it cannot be taken as her normal resting heart rate which is 80bpm.
Firstly I would like to debunk a few myths regarding one’s hear beat. Most of what people presume is flat wrong so let me set the record straight.
Myth#1: A normal heart rate is 60-100 beats per minute
This is the old standard and has been superseded by the suggested range of 50 to 70 beats per minute. Recent studies suggest a heart rate higher than 76 beats per minute when you are resting may be linked to a higher risk of heart attack. The better shape that you are in, the slower your heart rate will be when you are not moving around. It might be OK to have a resting heart rate of 80, but it does not mean that you are healthy.
Myth#2: An erratic heart rate means I’m having a heart attack
When your heart beats in an irregular pattern, you are having what is known as palpitations. You may feel as if it skipped a beat or speeds up. Or it may seem like a brief flutter or a pounding in your chest. Most of the time, these sensations are not life-threatening.
Many things can cause palpitations such as:
- Thyroid disorders
- Dietary supplements like goldenseal, oleander, motherwort, or ephedra
Myth#3: If my pulse is fast, it always means I am stressed out
Stress is just one thing that can raise your pulse. Your heart rate may also speed up when you exercise, get excited, or feel anxious or sad. When you stand up, your pulse may go up for 15 to 20 seconds before it goes back to normal. Even the weather, like high temperatures or humidity, can raise it. If you take thyroid medication, a fast pulse may be a sign that you are taking too much.
Myth#4: If my heart rate is normal, my blood pressure is fine
Sometimes your heart rate and your blood pressure go hand in hand. For example, when you exercise, or get angry or scared, they both go up. But they are not always linked. If your heart rate is normal, your blood pressure may not be. It could be too high or too low, and you may not realize it.
Even if your heart rate seems fine, get your blood pressure checked regularly.
Myth#5: If my heart rate is slow, it means I have a weak heart.
Not necessarily. A slow heart rate can be a sign that you are healthy and fit. An athlete’s heart muscle is in better shape, so it does not have to work as hard to keep up a steady beat. In general, slow rates are only a problem if you also pass out, feel dizzy, are short of breath, or have chest pain.
Research by a Chinese University has now been published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal which implicates a high heart beat in a shorter life span. At 90 bpm – beats per minute – one’s chances of an early death almost doubles. Slow pulses are no longer regarded as an indicator of a weak heart but rather as a prized attribute.
In this article it is mentioned that the normal low pulse is 45 – depending on one’s age. At peak physical fitness mine plummeted to 39. It was this number that caused Janine to quibble that my pulse was too low. As I never become light-headed except when I dehydrated during a run, I can presume that a heart rate of 39 is not deleterious to one’s health – in spite of what Janine says.
As I have aged, so has my pulse steadily climbed, sitting at an average of 55 bpm.
Now for the truly life threatening duty which lies before me!
Hopefully Janine back will be OK after the fusion but I earnestly hope that she will not be fit enough to kill me when I inform her that her normal resting pulse should be – not 80 – but a maximum of 70.
Before I do so, I will do some speed training and fartlek on an athletic track in order to develop some turn of speed.
And hopefully I will survive unscathed.
Internet: Heart rate myths: http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/features/5-heart-rate-myths-debunked?page=2
Article in [Joburg] Star: Death Tests a Heart Beat Away by Sarah Knapton