Italian researchers found that having a resting heart rate above 70 beats per minute (bpm) increases your risk of dying of heart disease by at least 78 percent. Follow the tips below to help drop your bpm and improve your odds.
1. Attack Your Cardio
Run hard, don't just jog. "Exercise increases your heart's efficiency, reducing the number of heart beats you need to achieve bloodflow," says John Elefteriades, M.D., the chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Yale University. Interval training can increase your heart's stroke volume (the amount of blood it pumps with each heart beat) by about 10 percent, but slower, sustained running has no effect on it, according to an American College of Sports Medicine study. Try a four-minute run at 90 percent of your maximum heart rate, and then jog for three minutes at 70 percent. Repeat the interval three times. Do this routine three times a week, as the study participants did. Keep track with a Suunto t3c Heart Rate Monitor. ($190, suuntowatches.com)
2. Trade Massages With Her
Regular massages may soothe a rapid heart beat. Relaxation techniques reduce your body's production of adrenaline, norepinephrine, and epinephrine, stress hormones that rev up your heart in the face of danger, says Atman P. Shah, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at UCLA. A 2007 British study found that people who received an hour of reflexology treatment (a type of foot or hand massage) had rates that averaged almost 8 bpm lower than when they went without.
3. Sleep More Soundly
The neighbor's barking dog can wreak havoc on your heart rate. In a 2007 study, Australian researchers used sound to wake people multiple times. After each noise-induced arousal, heart rates spiked an average of 13 bpm. Try Hearos Xtreme Protection Series earplugs—they can reduce noise by 33 decibels. ($4, walgreens.com)
4. Don't Try to Hold It
If you gotta go, you really should go. Taiwanese researchers who studied 40 people with early heart disease found that the stress of having a full bladder steps up the heart rate by an average of 9 bpm. When your bladder expands, it increases activity in your sympathetic nervous system. This may cause your coronary vessels to constrict, forcing your heart to beat more often—all of which might boost your heart-attack risk.
5. Savor Some Snapper
In a 2007 UCLA study, people who took a 1-gram fish-oil capsule every day reduced their resting heart rates by an average of 6 bpm after just two weeks. Fish oil may help your heart respond better to your vagus nerve, which controls heart rate. The result is a slower resting heart rate and better heart-rate responsiveness, says Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., Dr.P.H, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard medical school. Try Nordic Naturals (nordicnaturals.com).
Calculate Your Resting Heart Rate
Before rising from bed in the morning, take your pulse. (Place the tips of your index and middle finger on your wrist, and count the beats for a minute.) Do this for three days and figure the average. A typical man's rate is about 70 bpm, but athletes' are lower. If an exercise program refers to maximum heart rate, find yours by subtracting your age from 220.
Can your heart bounce back?
The faster your heart rate drops after exercise, the lower your risk of dying of a heart attack, according to a 2005 study in the New England Journal of Medicine that followed 5,713 men for 23 years. Subtract your heart rate at one minute after a workout from the maximum heart rate you reached during the workout. If the difference is more than 35 beats per minute, you're probably not at an increased risk. Otherwise, check the numbers below to determine your risk of dying of a heart attack.
Percentage increase in risk of sudden death due to a heart attack: 110
Drop in heart rate one minute after exercise (measured in beats per minute): < 25
Percentage increase in risk of sudden death due to a heart attack: 30
Drop in heart rate one minute after exercise (measured in beats per minute): 25-30
Percentage increase in risk of sudden death due to a heart attack: 40
Drop in heart rate one minute after exercise (measured in beats per minute): 31 to 35