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How Age Affects Resting Heart Rate

author image Ryn Gargulinski
Ryn Gargulinski is a writer, artist and performer whose journalism career began in 1991. Credits include two illustrated books, "Bony Yoga" and "Rats Incredible." She holds a Master of Arts in English literature and folklore and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in creative writing with a French minor from Brooklyn College.
How Age Affects Resting Heart Rate
Your lifestyle behaviors largely determine your resting heart rate at any age. Photo Credit ViktorCap/iStock/Getty Images

Your resting heart rate is a good indicator of your cardiovascular health, because it reflects how hard your heart has to work to satisfy to the oxygen needs of the cells throughout your body. If your lifestyle is sedentary and unhealthy, your heart muscle becomes weaker as you age, and has to pump more frequently to get the job done.

Your Heart at Rest

Your resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute when you are going about your daily life with no excessive movements or exercise. A normal resting heart for average adults is anywhere from 60 to 100 beats per minute, or BPM. If you happen to be very active or an athlete in training, your resting heart rate might be even lower, around 40 BPM, because exercise makes your heart stronger and more efficient at delivering oxygenate blood to your cells.

Why You Regress

Inactivity, poor nutrition, negative lifestyle behaviors like smoking and being overweight can all influence your heart health. When you carry extra weight around, your muscle work harder to move the heavier load, and your heart has to pump faster to supply your muscles with oxygen. Smoking robs your body of oxygen, and your heart beats faster to make up for the deficit. Sedentary living weakens your heart muscle, and it has to beat faster to make up for its inefficient pumping action. Poor nutrition can cause arterial blockage and inflammation that all take a toll on your heart. Changing your lifestyle behaviors and physical activity level will lower your resting heart rate and improve your cardiovascular health.

Your Heart at Its Best

The primary factor influencing your resting heart rate is your overall health and fitness level. Your heart is a muscle, and like the other muscles in your body, it will grow weak with disuse. Regular physical activity that uses your large muscles in a rhythmic fashion and elevates your heart rate forces your heart to work harder. Activities such as walking, cycling, swimming and cross-country skiing are all good options. Over time, gradually increasing the intensity and duration of your exercise sessions will result in increased size and strength of the heart muscle, enabling it to pump a greater volume of blood per beat, meaning it pumps fewer times per minute at rest, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Put Your Heart to the Test

Your resting heart rate is an indicator of your heart health at rest. A graded exercise stress test can tell you how well your heart performs during exercise. In the average individual, the maximal amount of oxygen you can use during intense exercise, called your VO2 max, declines by about one percent per year after the age of twenty. VO2 max is both a measure of heart function and the ability of your muscle cells to utilize oxygen for energy production. Even though there is a statistical decline with age, regular exercise can improve your VO2 max at any age. Your health care provider can schedule a stress test for you to evaluate your current cardiorespiratory fitness level.

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