Dear Doctors: My heart rate was 99 when I went for my physical recently, and my doctor said that’s too high. I explained it’s usually about 80, but medical appointments make me nervous. Still, it got me to thinking: What’s a normal resting heart rate? How do I get it to be lower?
Dear Reader: Heart rate refers to how many times your heart beats each minute. Add in the word “resting,” and you’re talking about a heart rate measured when someone is calm and relaxed. Along with blood pressure, an individual’s resting heart rate is often considered to be a window on their general health. And, just so you know, it’s not that unusual for someone’s heart rate, along with their blood pressure, to become elevated in the sometimes-stressful setting of a medical office.
According to the American Heart Association, a resting heart rate that ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute is normal for an adult. Factors such as age, gender, height, weight, physical fitness, lifestyle and general health each play a role in a person’s resting heart rate. Research has shown that being a cigarette smoker often elevates heart rate. So can stress, depression or being sick with a cold or the flu.
Elite athletes and people who are physically fit tend to have lower resting heart rates, sometimes measuring in the 40s or 50s. Medications can have an effect on heart rate, as well. For example, stimulants such as Ritalin and certain antidepressants have been shown to raise resting heart rate. Other drugs such as calcium channel blockers or beta blockers can slow the heart rate down. Some studies have associated a rise in resting heart rate with an increased risk of complications such as atrial fibrillation or coronary artery disease.