A Faster Resting Heart Beat Can Predict Early Death

Slow and steady may win the race, as new research finds a quick resting heart rate to be a good predictor of early mortality.

Heart rate as a marker of overall health

It may seems counter-intuitive, but regular exercise is known to slow heart rate, and a slower rate often comes hand in hand with physical fitness. Scientists have questioned for a while whether resting heart rate can predict overall mortality risk, and it now seems there is indeed a link.

"There is no doubt that elevated resting heart rate serves as a marker of poor health status. The association of resting heart rate with risk of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality is independent of traditional risk factors of cardiovascular disease, suggesting that resting heart rate is a predictor of mortality in the general population"

The latest, exhaustive meta-analysis was conducted by a Chinese team and involved 46 studies including 1.2 million people; including 78 349 deaths. The resulting data concluded that those with a resting heart rate over 80bpm (beats per minute) were 45% more likely to die from any cause within 20 years in contrast to those with the lowest rates of around 45bpm. Those with rates between 60-80 were 21% more likely to die in that period.

The majority of people's heart rate hovers between 60 to 100 bpm, but athletes often exhibit lower rates around 40 bpm - demonstrating a higher level of fitness. Surprisingly, every 10 bpm increase was associated with an increase in risk of both cardiovascular complications and all-cause mortality.

Physical exercise can reduce resting heart rate

"Results from this meta-analysis suggest the risk of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality increased by 9% and 8% for every 10 beats/min increment of resting heart rate. The risk of all-cause mortality increased significantly with increasing resting heart rate in a linear relation, but a significantly increased risk of cardiovascular mortality was observed at 90 beats/min"

What does this mean?

While the finding is interesting by itself, the overall mortality risk associated with heart rate is still relatively small so other factors are likely far more important in regards to longevity. However, it does demonstrate the benefits physical fitness can have on the body, and considering heart rate is relatively easy to monitor it could be a useful, quick marker of health. 

"The available evidence does not fully establish resting heart rate as a risk factor, but there is no doubt that elevated resting heart rate serves as a marker of poor health status. Our results highlight that people should pay more attention to their resting heart rate for their health, and also indicate the potential importance of physical activity to lower resting heart rate."

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