Factors That Affect Heart Rate and Blood Pressure

There are a variety of factors affecting heart rate and blood pressure that can cause these measurements to fluctuate each day. Blood pressure is the force that the blood exerts on the artery walls. The heart rate, also called pulse rate, is the number of times your heart beats per minute. These two measurements provide information about the health of the heart and cardiovascular system.

Too much coffee can affect your heart rate. (Image: visualspace/iStock/GettyImages)

The American Heart Association reports that a normal resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute, and a healthy blood pressure is a systolic reading (the pressure as the heart contracts) of less than 120 mm Hg and a diastolic reading (the pressure as the heart relaxes) of less than 80 mm Hg.

Nutrition and Heart Health

Following a diet low in fat and rich in fruits and vegetables, such as suggested by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), can help to lower or prevent high blood pressure. In addition, reducing the amount of salt, or sodium, consumed on a daily basis is important. Most Americans eat more than the recommended 2,300 milligrams of salt per day, as outlined by the NHLBI, increasing their risk for high blood pressure.

Caffeine, a naturally occurring drug found in foods such as coffee, tea and chocolate, also affects blood pressure and heart rate. Caffeine causes blood vessels to constrict, or get smaller, which increases blood pressure. It also triggers the heart to beat faster.

Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol is a drug and consuming too much can have negative effects on the body and is one of the factors affecting heart rate. Alcohol causes the blood vessels in the arms and legs, known as the peripheral vascular system, to dilate, or get bigger. Because the blood now has a larger area within the vessel, the blood pressure drops. The heart, therefore, must pump faster and harder to keep the blood flowing throughout the body.

Smoking and Nicotine

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that the nicotine in cigarettes causes the release of epinephrine resulting in a short-term increase in both blood pressure and heart rate.

In addition, smoking causes the blood vessels in the arms and legs to become narrower. Over time, it contributes to atherosclerosis, a condition that occurs when fatty material known as plaque builds up in the arteries. These conditions are factors that can contribute to chronic high blood pressure.

Exercise and Cardiovascular Health

Getting regular exercise, defined by the American Heart Association as 30 minutes or more of moderately intense physical activity on all or most days, is important for heart health. Regular exercise also helps to maintain a healthy body weight.

Those who are overweight are more likely to have high blood pressure, high triglycerides (fats) and a low level of HDL (good) cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association. Those who are overweight often also have higher heart rates because the heart must pump harder and faster for the blood to flow through the additional tissue.

Participating in activities that are continuous and use the large muscles of the arms and legs is considered aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise promotes the circulation of oxygen throughout the body.

Because it is the heart muscle that pumps the oxygen-carrying blood through the body, the heart is essentially exercising. This type of exercise helps the heart to build up endurance. The result is that the heart works more effectively — blood will circulate at a slower heart rate both during exercise and at rest.

Medications and Blood Pressure

There are a number of medications that can affect blood pressure and heart rate according to MedlinePlus. Some over-the-counter decongestants that are commonly found in cough and cold medications cause an increase both in the blood pressure and heart rate, sometimes also resulting in feelings of nervousness and anxiety.

Acetaminophen, an over-the-counter pain reliever, is known to increase blood pressure. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, trigger the body to retain fluids, which increases the volume of blood. To pump this increased volume of blood, the blood pressure increases as does the heart rate.

Some prescription medications can also affect blood pressure. These include birth control pills, which contain the hormones estrogen and progesterone, and antidepressants.

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