Experts say a person’s resting heart rate (RHR) is one of the best reflections of their current and future health.
Factors that influence heart rate include age, activity level, smoking, medications, emotional state, and having cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol or diabetes. A normal heart rate for an adult is between 60 and 100 beats per minute, but the hearts of well-trained athletes can be as slow as 40 beats per minute.
A 2013 study in the journal Heart tracked the cardiovascular health of about 3,000 men for 16 years. It found that a high RHR was linked with lower physical fitness and higher blood pressure, body weight, and levels of circulating blood fats.
The researchers also discovered that the higher a person’s RHR, the greater the risk of premature death. An RHR between 81 and 90 doubled the chance of death, while an RHR higher than 90 tripled it.
A high RHR is one of the “30 most common risks we encounter”, according to Professor Wen Chi-pang, an investigator at the Institute of Population Health Sciences at Taiwan’s National Health Research Institutes in Taipei.
Wen studies chronic diseases and biomarkers and has converted each into a predicted life expectancy. As well as high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes, a high RHR ranked among the most critical indicators of a shorter life.
“For every beat above 70, your life expectancy is shortened by four months,” he says. “Ten beats above, that is 3.3 years shorter.”
He explains how much those beats can add up over the years. “The difference between 60 and 90 [beats per minute] is 30. This extra 30 beats over an hour adds up to 1,800. In a day that’s 43,000, in a year that’s 15 million, in 20 years, that’s 315 million beats’ difference. When the difference is 10 beats per minute, over 20 years that’s 100 million extra beats.
“It’s like a car – if you accumulate that kind of [extra] mileage, you’re going to break down.”
To measure your RHR, hold your index and middle finger in a place you can feel your pulse, such as the underside of your wrist or your neck. Set a timer and count the beats you feel over 30 seconds, then double that number to get your beats per minute.
If you feel your heart rate may be too high – above 100 beats a minute, for example – book an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
A large number of studies show that yoga benefits many aspects of cardiovascular health
Dr Hugh Calkins, Johns Hopkins University
For those who want to safeguard their health, Valentine’s Day is as good an excuse as any to get moving with a friend – or lover – and put health at the heart of your celebrations. Here are five ways to do so.
1. Kiss away the ashtray
“I’m a social smoker” is a common phrase heard from people who confine their smoking to social occasions and assume that having the odd puff here and there won’t affect their health.
Unfortunately, it does: people who smoke an average of less than one cigarette per day over their entire lives are 64 per cent more likely to die early than people who have never smoked, according to a 2017 study by the US National Cancer Institute.
It’s also a turn off. A survey conducted last year by medical tech company Inogen looked at preferences for 1,000 people aged between 18 to 76 regarding cigarette and e-cigarette smoking. It found that 70 per cent of women considered smokers less attractive and 56 per cent said they wouldn’t date one; for men, 65 per cent found smokers less attractive and 46 per cent would not date one.
2. Get steamy
A good sex life is good for your heart: it burns around five calories per minute, gets your heart rate up and exercises muscles all over your body. It also regulates oestrogen and testosterone levels, which can lead to heart disease or osteoporosis if unbalanced.
Men who have sex twice a week are half as likely to die from heart disease as men who have sex rarely. Sexual pleasure also decreases stress by boosting endorphin levels and flushing cortisol out of the body.
3. Food of love
Oysters, steaks and other delicacy meats dominate Valentine’s menus each year, but switching to a plant-based diet cuts out a lot of saturated fat associated with redder meats.
Whether you choose to eat meat or not, to protect against heart disease you should eat no more than 6g of salt a day, aim to eat at least 30g of fibre, and load up on foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, according to advice from Britain’s National Health Service. Some of the best plant sources of Omega-3 include chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, flaxseeds, Brussels sprouts, seaweed and kidney beans.
What’s more thoughtful than a home-cooked candlelit meal? Restaurant food and ready meals are often high in salt and unnecessary calories from excess fat and sugar, while home-cooked dishes give you more control over portion sizes, nutrition, preparation methods and additives.
4. Move together
Just 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity a week can reduce your risk of heart disease by up to 50 per cent. Even squeezing in just 10 minutes a day makes a big difference if you spend most of your day sitting down. To get the maximum heart-health benefit from aerobic exercise, aim to get your heart rate up to between 50 and 85 per cent of your maximum heart rate (subtract your age from 220).
If you find solitary runs and gym sessions demotivating, why not try high-intensity dance classes like salsa, Zumba or swing? As well as being fun, they are among the activities that burn the most calories.
5. Feel as one
Instead of going to the cinema for Valentine’s or bingeing on streamed TV at home, you could try de-stressing activities like yoga or meditation as a couple. These activities can relax the body and mind, help decrease blood pressure, lower cortisol and blood glucose levels, and promote a sense of stillness and well-being.
“A large number of studies show that yoga benefits many aspects of cardiovascular health,” says Dr Hugh Calkins, director of the Cardiac Arrhythmia Service at Johns Hopkins University in the US. “There has been a major shift in the last five years or so in the number of cardiologists and other professionals recognising that these benefits are real.”