Faster heart rates in otherwise healthy men could be a
harbinger of an earlier death, even among those who exercise, a new Danish study
The finding provides more evidence of the potential danger
lurking in the bodies of both men and women who have rapid pulses when they're
Should you be worried if your heart rate is high? Maybe, said
study author Dr Magnus Thorsten Jensen, a cardiologist at Copenhagen University
Hospital Gentofte. "A high heart rate does not necessarily mean disease," he
said. "But we know that there is a very strong and significant association
between high heart rate and life expectancy."
What is a high heart rate?
According to previous research by Jensen and his colleagues,
people with resting pulses of 80 beats per minute die four to five years earlier
than those with pulses of 65 beats per minute. "To put that into perspective, it
is the same difference in life expectancy, in the same individuals, as having a
lifetime cancer diagnosis or not," he said.
Researchers have known about a link between heart rate and life
expectancy for more than a decade. Normally, physically fit people have lower
heart rates and those who don't exercise much have higher heart rates. That
raises the issue of whether higher heart rates simply reflect the
heart-unfriendly lifestyles of couch potatoes.
The new study aimed to answer this question: Does a higher
resting heart rate translate to an earlier death even among those who are
healthy and exercise regularly? The researchers found that the answer is yes,
suggesting that "resting heart rate is not just a marker of fitness level, but
an independent risk factor," Jensen said.
The findings are based on an analysis of nearly 2 800 men who
were followed for 16 years beginning in 1970, when they were
The researchers adjusted their statistics so they wouldn't be
skewed by factors such as high or low numbers of men of certain ages or habits.
After the adjustment, they found that the risk of death increased by 16% for
each 10-beat-per-minute increase in resting heart rate.
The situation for women shouldn't be much different since
previous heartbeat research has included them and found similar findings, Jensen
Jensen suspects that the higher heart rates are the first signs
of underlying disease, such as heart disease, lung disease or
Dr Gregg Fonarow, a professor of cardiology at the University
of California, Los Angeles, said physicians are aware of the risk of higher
heart rates, and monitor patients for them and make suggestions.
"Increasing physical activity and decreasing periods of sitting
can lower heart rate and lower cardiovascular risk," he said. "Stopping smoking
can lower heart rate." And medication can help in some cases.
Popular heart drugs like beta blockers, however, "are generally
reserved for those individuals with hypertension, arrhythmias or established
cardiovascular disease," said Fonarow, who was not involved in the
What's next? Jensen said the normal range of heart rates at
rest - 60 to 100 beats per minute - should be reconsidered, since the higher
range appears to be a sign of poor health.
For more about heart
disease, try the US National Library of Medicine.
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