Heart rate can tell you a lot about a person’s immediate status—and longterm health. We experience heart rate as the rhythmic beating of the heart, and we monitor it by feeling the pulse at a convenient point such as below the wrist. Whether you place a hand over your heart, or detect your pulse at a distant point, you’re experiencing the effects of the body’s hardest-working muscle as it rhythmically contracts, relaxes momentarily, then contracts again—forcing oxygenated blood throughout the body, and simultaneously accepting spent blood for re-oxygenation and recirculation, ad infinitum.
Of course, the heart does not go on beating infinitely. Our days are finite indeed, and they’re largely measured out in solitary heart beats. For a lucky person who lives to 80 years of age or beyond, it’s been estimated that this hardy organ may contract and release (beat) up to 3 billion times or more. It’s a good thing no one expects you to keep count.
Heat Rate and Health
But you may want to keep tract of your heart rate. While this varies from person to person—depending on everything from emotional state, to physical fitness level, to body mass—the average person experiences a resting heart rate of approximately 60-70 beats per minute (bpm). Among elite athletes, this number may routinely drop into the mid-40s, while among the obese or sedentary, it might rise as high as 80 or even 100 bpm.
Generally speaking, the lower your resting rate (within limits), the better your metabolic health and the longer you are likely to live. It’s not so much that we have a limited number of beats “built-in” at birth (although the embryonic heart famously begins “beating” long before birth). Rather, a slow pulse reflects fitness. The cardiovascular system (especially the blood vessels) are flexible and healthy, the lungs are working efficiently to deliver ample oxygen and remove carbon dioxide, and the body is not generating too many damaging free radicals, thanks to a healthful diet characterized by plant foods. Blood pressure remains normal, and blood sugar levels are more or less steady.
People with an abnormally high heart rate (100 bpm or more) aren’t “using up” their allotment of lifetime contractions. Rather, they are experiencing a revved up heart rate because they suffer from conditions that place an undue strain on the heart as it struggles to deliver adequate oxygen with each beat. Factors such as obesity, smoking, high blood pressure, poor diet, inactivity etc., may all combine to raise the resting heart rate.
Tame Your Restless Heart
Managing your heart rate comes down to some simple prescriptions for overall health: eat a better diet, exercise more, stop smoking, get plenty of sleep (regularly!), and consult your doctor routinely regarding your blood pressure, body weight and other health parameters. You’ll notice that the first thing any healthcare provider will do is to take your blood pressure. They’ll also note your pulse (heart rate) and rate of breathing.
A diet rich in plant-based antioxidants and other unique phytonutrients has been linked to better cardiovascular health. So, too, is ample daily activity and both aerobic and resistance exercise. Certain plant nutrients are especially beneficial to cardiovascular health. Nitrates from foods such as raw beets, for instance, are linked to better blood pressure among people with high blood pressure. And nutrients such as magnesium and potassium have been shown to counteract the blood-pressure-raising effects of too much sodium in the diet. Consult your physician before taking any supplements.