High heart rate at rest linked to increased risk of death

Washington: Irrespective of level of physical fitness, people with high resting heart rates have higher risk of death than those with lower heart rates, a new study has found.

A resting heart rate - the number of heart beats per minute - is determined by an individual`s level of physical fitness, circulating hormones, and the autonomic nervous system.

A rate at rest of between 60 and 100 beats per minute is considered normal.

People who are very physically active tend to have a low heart rate at rest, but the researchers wanted to find out if heart rate had any bearing on an individual`s risk of death, irrespective of their level of cardiorespiratory fitness.

They therefore tracked the health of just under 3000 men for 16 years, all of whom were part of the Copenhagen Male Study. In 1971, all participants were interviewed by a doctor about their health and lifestyle, including smoking and exercise, and given a check-up. Their cardiorespiratory fitness was assessed using a cycling test, set at three different levels of exertion.

In 1985-6, just under 3000 of these original participants were given a further check-up, to include measurements of height, weight, blood pressure, blood fats and blood glucose. Their resting heart rate was also recorded (ECG and VO2Max).

Sixteen years later in 2001, the researchers checked national Danish registers to find out which of these men had survived. Almost four out of 10 of the men had died by 2001.

Unsurprisingly, a high resting heart rate was associated with lower levels of physical fitness, higher blood pressure and weight, and higher levels of circulating blood fats. Similarly, men who were physically active tended to have lower resting heart rates.

But the results showed that the higher the resting heart rate, the higher was the risk of death, irrespective of fitness level.

After adjusting for factors likely to influence the results, a resting heart rate of between 51 and 80 beats per minute was associated with a 40 to 50 percent increased risk of death, while one between 81 and 90 beats per minute doubled the risk, compared with those with the lowest rate. A resting heart rate above 90 beats per minute tripled the risk.

On the basis of their findings, the researchers calculated that every 10 to 22 additional beats per minute in resting heart rate increased the risk of death by 16 percent, overall.

When smoking was factored in, this showed that every 12 to 27 additional heartbeats per minute increased a smoker`s risk by 20 percent, with a 14 percent increase in risk for every additional 4 to 24 beats per minute for non-smokers.

"We found that irrespective of level of physical fitness, subjects with high resting heart rates fare worse than subjects with lower heart rates. This suggests that a high resting heart rate is not a mere marker of poor physical fitness, but is an independent risk factor," the researchers concluded.


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