Inner Circle Health Network

Secrets Hidden in Your Resting Heart Rate

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You know, in this simple measure of resting heart rate, your heart rate doing nothing, just relaxing, contains a huge amount of health information. We often don't think of it that way, but it really does. And in the age where people are wearing these devices, whether they're the wrist device that tracks heart rate, the chest device that tracks your heart rate, or some smartphone app that also connects to a heart rate monitoring device, many of us are seeing what our heart rates are doing around the clock, or at least during various activities. And contained in that heart rate information is very valuable information.

These are the conversations, by the way, I have in my new book Undoctored — Why Health Care Has Failed You And How You Can Become Smarter Than Your Doctor, including using, and applying wisely, all the new information coming our way from such things as these devices tracking heart rate.

Now you don't have to buy one of these devices to track heart rate. You can do it the old-fashioned way. Just take your pulse at the radial artery [here], near the outside the thumb, below the thumb, or in the carotid artery [right there], and you can count the number of heartbeats per 30 seconds. Multiply times two for heart rate per minute, or refer to one of the devices. What you really want is your resting heart rate; your heart rate after sitting quietly for about five minutes. You can choose to sit quietly in your chair, your desk, or somewhere in your living room. You can do it while you're watching a non-stressful TV show, or some other relaxing, where you're sitting and doing essentially nothing — and get your heart rate.

Now, these new devices are really cool because one of the things they do is — they can show heart rate during other activities — but most importantly, they can also track heart rate during sleep. The most reliable index of health is your heart rate during sleep, particularly in the quiet hours of the night like 2:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. That's where your heart rate should be its lowest. That's a really valuable number. That's the best resting heart rate you can get. But even if you don't have that — all you have is just take your own pulse, that's okay. That's pretty good too.

So what is an ideal heart rate and what does it tell us? Well, ideal heart rate is 50 to 60 beats per minute. Rarely is it lower. That tends to be only in the elite athletes. But 50 to 60 beats per minute is ideal — ideal health. 60 to 70 is pretty good health. 70 and above starts to signal problems. 80 and above: clearly problems.

What kinds of problems does a higher heart rate, above 70, and especially above 80, signal? Lots of problems: increased potential for pre-diabetes and diabetes, higher risk for stroke and carotid disease, and increased potential for heart attack and heart failure, even cancer, increased inflammation.

So a higher heart rate can't tell you precisely exactly what's what's ahead, but it can serve as kind of a canary-in-the-coal-mine effect; that something is coming your way. So tracking your resting heart rate over time — you can do it every day, but you can just do it once in a while — and let's say you're doing fine, you're 58, 61, doing good, right? Really nice numbers — but all of a sudden it's 73 or 78: something's wrong. Doesn't tell you what it is, whether there's high blood pressure now, or some high blood sugar effect or insulin effect. But it tells you: start looking, start asking questions about what that might be. Now, let's say you do start with, if you still have a low heart rate like say 58 or 61 or 55 you're good, right? It suggests by that measure you're in good shape. What if your heart rate's 76 beats per minute?

Well, talk to your doctor, and he may look for some basic causes, like do an EKG and so on, but he'll likely say something like this: “Did you want to drug to reduce your heart rate?” like a beta blocker, or some of the calcium blockers like verapamil. Well, those do indeed lower your heart rate, but it doesn't make you healthier. In fact, there are pretty good data suggesting that the death rate, the cardiovascular event rate, increases when you force the heart rate down artificially with these drugs. That's not a solution. In fact, that's pretty typical of what the health care system does, right? The medical system; it gives you these artificial band-aids that make things look better, but don't actually make things better, because the root cause is not identified. And you introduce something extrinsic to the body to force some measure to respond. So that is a lousy way to deal with increased heart rate.

So what do you do if you find yourself with a higher heart rate? First of all make sure nothing funny is going on. That part may involve your doctor, like checking a blood count, making sure you're not anemic, checking your thyroid, doing a basic physical exam, looking for just hints of something that might go on, checking a blood sugar. But if all that turns out to be okay, which it typically does, what can you do to reduce heart rate without drugs?

Well, first of all make sure it's not lack of salt or sodium and water. Recall that our grain free lifestyle, the Undoctored lifestyle, means we lose more sodium or salt because we don't have the salt retention of the gliadin protein of grains, the high insulin levels of grain consuming and sugar consuming people. So, if you find a higher heart rate, start by hydrating better and salting your food better. If you see a trend downward over several days in your heart rate, you've got your answer. It was just a lack of sodium and water.

If you don't get a response, continue to look for a cause. Think about achieving higher levels of physical fitness: more walking, more dancing, more biking, more fun things, yoga, anything to increase your physical fitness. That can help. You'll know that it's working, over time, as you see a decline, a gradual decline in your heart rate.

Think about doing a better job of reducing inflammation. Now, the basic Undoctored Wild-Naked-Unwashed program does a magnificent job of reducing inflammatory measures. But some people, an occasional person, will have persistent levels of inflammation. So think about other ways to deal with that. It's all discussed in different parts the Undoctored book and program, and online sites. But consider such tools as intermittent fasting or achieving ketosis in your diet. You'll find videos on the Undoctored sites about those specific issues as well as in the Undoctored book. Those can further ratchet down inflammatory measures.

One of the toughest issues to deal with, that can contribute to a higher heart rate: stress, emotional stress. Now I'd love to say just get rid of the stress, but you know, of course, that's not that easy. What if it's financial worries. What if it's an unsatisfying marriage, or a problem teenage child, or elder parent you're taking care of, who is declining in health. These are situations you just can't remove yourself from and run away. So I don't have answers for all those difficult situations, complicated situations, except to: say appreciate that stress is showing up in health metrics, and it's starting to take a toll. Try to find constructive ways of dealing with these stresses. Do something for yourself. Find ways to unburden at least some of the stress on you. If you identify a high heart rate, consider more social interactions. You know, our modern lives are so isolated nowadays. We spend time, so much time behind the computer, or in our own cubicle at work, or family has moved away. Think about more social interactions. That alone can reduce your heart rate, as having a pet can do. So any kind of human-animal interaction, with another living being, can reduce heart rate, surprisingly.

Lastly, think about manipulating or using something called Heart Rate Variability, or HRV, as a tool to help reduce heart rate over time. Now that's a lot to go into right now, so I'm going to go into that separately in a series of videos, on the Undoctored Inner Circle. There's also a beginning conversation in the Undoctored book, and we'll also touch on it some of the other Undoctored online conversations.

Heart Rate Variability is an index, as the name suggests, of the variation between each heart beat. People often think that the best heart rate is perfectly regular, beep…beep…beep, with perfect lock-step regularity — not true. In fact, perfect regularity is a very dangerous thing to have. It signals dramatic increase in potential for heart attack, heart failure, and other health problems. What we want is some irregularity, in a very specific pattern. We don't want extremely irregularity; that would be abnormal heart rhythms, like atrial fibrillation. We want physiologic variation in beat-to-beat intervals, the time between beats. This is a measure called Heart Rate Variability.

If you learn to control your heart rate variability, you can achieve extraordinary things. Not only can you reduce the heart rate, resting heart rate, you can reduce blood pressure, reduce anxiety, improve sleep and achieve a whole range of other effects — reduce cortisol stress levels — some really magnificent things you can achieve. But that's a whole new issue. It does require some of the newer tools. I've been doing this for 20-some years, and the tools 20-some years ago were very primitive. Now they're very sophisticated, and very inexpensive, and accessible. But I have to show you that separately. But, add that to your list of factors, strategies to consider, if you identify a high heart rate.

So the heart rate is very valuable as an index of health. It can also be very valuable as something for you to follow. If you see a rise in heart rate over time, let's say you're at 55 per minute very consistently — now it's 68 and 72, start thinking about why that might be. So it can serve as your index; some kind of a warning signal. Something is going on.

So the heart rate is very very simple measure that you can do just with your own pulse taking — your own pulse, or gotten off any number of devices, like the wristbands, apps that monitor heart rate, through various devices you apply to your skin, even your some of the scales — the digital scales, and give you a heart rate. Any of those devices give you a nice resting heart rate. And you can use that number, and put it to great use for identifying, and then tracking your health.