Monday, June 24, 2013

Resting Heart Rate and The Effect of Age

Capturing your true resting heart rate is very hard.  The best time is to take it the moment you wake from a deep sleep.  But, honestly, who can do that?  The moment you awaken even from a light sleep, your heart rate has already increased.  The moment you start kicking all of the covers off of you, your body has already started to heat up.  So, truly, there is no "exact" resting heart rate, only indicators which may or may not point to it.

Now, average resting heart rate is 60-80bpm.  Under that could be a sign of extreme fitness, but its more often a sign of brachychardia.  My aging father's RPM is about 85, so obviously, that is something that I always worry about, and while it doesn't appear that I inherited the bad blood from my mom, I worry that I inherited the heart from a dad.

I honestly don't know what my true resting heart rate was when I was running regularly before.  But, with the WiThings scale and using my Garmin Heart Rate Monitor on runs, I do plan on tracking the trend over the next two months.  In an effort at leveling my expectations, I did some research on how fast it should reduce given my exercise regimen.  Sadly, this is hard to find!  Not because people are keeping it uber-secret, but more because your RHR is a dependent of a variety of things:
  • Age
  • Weight
  • Physican Condition
  • Stress Level
  • Hours of Sleep
  • Hydration
  • Salt Intake
It also seems to be tied quite closely with blood pressure.  Either way, the lower the RHR, the better.  It is a good qualifier for a healthy heart.  Exercise improves the efficiency of oxygen transportation throughout your body.  The lower your RHR, the less your heart needs to pump.

But, how fast will it drop for me, now that I have started to train again?  How low will it drop?  There seems to be no scientific indication about this, but quite a bit of anecdotal, if you are willing to search it out.  So, what can be my expectations as it relates to my RHR?  If I exercise and eat healthy, and get to a proper weight, I will essentially have a stronger heart, as indicated my a lower RHR.  Here is a snippet of what I found:
  • A personal trainer instructed his client that his goal for the next 1.5 months is to lower my blood pressure from 138/83 to 120/80 and my resting heart rate from 77 to 72.
  • Over eight weeks cardio 30-60 mins 4x/week and one circuit 4x/week, my bp went down from 140/80 to 120/70, and resting heart rate went from 78 to 70. I didn't limit calories. I was overweight and lost 25 lbs, which I'm sure helped the bp and heart rate as well.
  • If you work out for an hour 4 days a week then you can expect to see an improvement in 4 weeks. I think that sounds reasonable but this is only a guideline. You can tell with how you feel and by checking your heart rate. You can do it manually or with equipment.
Of course, the above is ALL anecdotal, and its very individual even if they were accurate representations, but 6 weeks seems to be the consistent first indicator of positive improvement!   I am currently in the "average" category for my gender/age, so I hope to move to the "above average" in 6 weeks.  Once the weather cools, my heart won't have to work as a hard either, so this may help play a part in ongoing heart strength.  For a quick and dirty current status and goal, see this analysis:

Now, its interesting that some people convince themselves to avoid exercise because the high heartrate scares them, but then, the higher heart rate simply indicates exercise for your heart!  The stronger your heart becomes over time, the less it has to work for those daily/hourly tasks.  Those daily tasks are what eventually limit your heart's effectiveness in our senior years, so its best to develop the heart strength now and continue it, rather than attempt to influence it in your later years when its already weaker! 

Aging affects all of your muscles.  You see it in your biceps.  You see it in your abs.  You see it when it takes more energy to climb the stairs.  Well, it also affects your most important internal muscle, your heart.  As a result, your RHR tends to increase with age, simply because your heart is not as strong or efficient as it used to be.  Aging can also lead to clogged and hardened arteries. This requires your heart to pump even faster to overcome the obstruction and friction forced caused by the state of your arteries, which make your heart work even harder.  This is even evident in the simple act of walking, as indicated by a study:

Obviously, your goal should be to minimize the effects of age as much as possible, starting now.  If you wait, it will just become harder as the years pass. Its much easier to MAINTAIN heart health and overall fitness, than it is to find it when your body already ages into a weakened body!

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