7 Reasons Your Heart Rate Rises With Light Activity

If your heart races with very little activity, it could mean you need to change your lifestyle.
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If you find yourself winded with little effort and your heart rate increasing when doing normal activities, it could be your body's way of sounding the alarm for your health. A heart rate that rises easily with minimal effort is a good indication that some lifestyle changes are in order.


According to the Mayo Clinic, a normal resting heart rate ranges between 60 and 100 beats per minute. This is when you are at complete rest and not doing any kind of activity. As you're more active throughout the day, it's normal for your heart rate to increase depending on the intensity of the activity you're doing.

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Here, a cardiologist explains the reasons for an increased heart rate with very little activity, ways to lower it and when to see a doctor.

1. You Have Iron-Deficiency Anemia

Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, a condition where a lack of healthy red blood cells leads to reduced oxygen flow to the organs. Increased heart rate and fatigue are two symptoms of the condition. The heart rate rises easily in an attempt to meet the body's oxygen requirement by pumping more blood per minute.


"When there's a low level of oxygen in the blood, the heart works extra hard to compensate," explains Nikolaos Diakos, MD, PhD, an interventional cardiologist at The Texas Heart Institute. "This puts a lot of pressure on the heart, which can cause it to beat faster."

Untreated anemia can make underlying cardiovascular issues worse, Dr. Diakos notes, so it's important to get a diagnosis and manage the condition.


Fix It

Your doctor can diagnose anemia through a blood test and run other tests to determine the underlying cause. Sometimes anemia is caused by a lack of iron in the diet or heavy periods, but it could also be a symptom of more serious conditions like a peptic ulcer or celiac disease, per the Mayo Clinic, which is why getting a proper workup is so important. Treatment typically includes increasing the amount of iron-rich foods you eat (think: red meats and leafy green vegetables) and/or taking iron supplements, along with treating any underlying conditions.

2. You're Stressed

Stress can have a serious effect on your heart rate and overall heart health. "A high heart rate can represent a physiologic response of our body to an external stimulus such as fear, anxiety or stress," Dr. Diakos says.

Even if you are doing light activity, like walking around the house, high stress levels can have your heart racing. According to the American Heart Association, the body releases adrenaline when in stressful situations. The hormone temporarily causes your heart rate to speed up and your blood pressure to rise. This response to stress is meant to prepare you to deal with the situation — also known as the "fight or flight" response.


Managing stress is good for your overall health and can lower your risk of heart disease.


Fix It

Tame stress by getting regular physical activity, meditating, doing yoga, taking time to laugh, connecting with others, writing in a journal, getting enough sleep, listening to music or making time for creative hobbies you enjoy, per the Mayo Clinic. If those methods don't work for you, consider talking to a therapist.

3. You're Sleep-Deprived

If you're not getting enough sleep (that's seven to nine hours a night for adults, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), you won't just be extra tired during the day — your heart health will suffer, too.


Indeed, people dealing with sleep deprivation are more likely to experience an irregular heart beat and heart palpitations. In a June 2018 ‌HeartRhythm‌ review, four studies found a link between atrial fibrillation (AFib) and poor sleep.

In one of those studies, people with pre-diagnosed AFib had more frequent abrupt awakenings compared to those who did not have the heart condition. In the three other studies, poor sleep quality, including frequent nighttime awakenings and less REM sleep, predicted which individuals would develop an abnormal heartbeat.


Fix It

If you struggle with getting consistent, good-quality sleep, see if natural remedies for insomnia work for you, such as: going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (even on weekends), getting regular exercise, finding ways to relax before bed and making your bedroom dark, quiet and cool (around 65 degrees Fahrenheit).

Talk to your doctor before trying any natural sleep aids like melatonin.

4. You're a Smoker

Cigarette smoking has a long list of serious consequences, including breathing problems, risk of lung cancer and heart disease. Smoking can also cause major damage to your heart health, according to the Texas Heart Institute. It increases your heart rate and can cause an irregular heart rhythm, which makes your heart work harder. Smoking cigarettes will likely also raise your blood pressure, increasing your risk of stroke.


Secondhand smoke can have devastating affects too, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Breathing in secondhand smoke can compromise the heart's normal function and increase your risk for heart disease and stroke.

Fix It

It may not be easy, but taking steps to quit smoking for good is one of the best things you can do for your heart health. Identifying and avoiding your triggers is a good place to start, as is seeking social support and considering nicotine replacement therapy. If you need more help, ask your doctor about prescription medications.

5. You've Had Too Much Caffeine

Excessive caffeine consumption could be the culprit behind a sudden increase in your resting heart rate, Dr. Diakos says. Caffeine is a natural stimulant that can have certain health benefits like enhanced focus and lower inflammation levels, but caffeine intake should be monitored.


The average adult can safely consume up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day, according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, which is equal to about four cups of home-brewed coffee. If you go beyond that or simply take in more caffeine than you're used to, you might notice an uptick in your heart rate.

Keep in mind that some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others, too, which can also cause heart palpitations or an irregular heart rate.

Fix It

If caffeine is affecting your heart rate, cut back on the amount you're drinking. To wean off caffeine without feeling withdrawal symptoms like headache or irritability, take it slow (cut your intake in half, for starters, and slowly decrease from there if needed), sub in decaf and look for other ways to increase your energy, such as getting more exercise and sleep.

6. You're Dehydrated

If you're feeling thirsty, chances are you're already dehydrated. Water is a crucial part of our survival, and dehydration can cause an elevated heart rate when your body is deprived of fluid, per the Cleveland Clinic.

Dehydration can negatively affect your organs and overall bodily functions. When you are dehydrated, the amount of blood circulating through your body decreases, per the Heart Foundation. In order to make up for it, your heart beats faster, increasing your heart rate and your blood pressure.

Fix It

Make sure you're drinking enough water throughout the day to stay hydrated. According to the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the average adult should get somewhere between 11.5 and 15.5 cups of water per day (although this is an older recommendation, it's still widely regarded as a good guideline).

7. You Have Obesity

Having obesity can put you at risk for heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, high blood pressure and other chronic illnesses, per the Cleveland Clinic. There's also a higher risk of developing an arrhythmia.

Obesity increases blood pressure, causing the heart to pump harder in order to deliver blood to your arteries. The heart works harder during everyday activities or slight movement, too, for the same reason.

Fix It

When you have obesity, even losing a small percentage of your body weight can have positive effects on your health. Start by talking to your doctor, who can help you make a realistic weight-loss plan based on your fitness level and any underlying conditions. From there, consider working with a registered dietitian to help you adjust your diet as well as a personal trainer, who can guide you when it comes to exercise for weight loss.

What's a Good Heart Rate?

Your resting heart rate is a good indication of your heart health, but it will also depend on several factors, including your age, hormones, stress levels, activity levels and if you take any medications, Dr. Diakos says.


"Resting heart rate can be a marker of cardiovascular fitness. People with good cardiovascular fitness such as athletes tend to have a lower resting heart rate," he says.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the average adult resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute, while a trained athlete may have a resting heart rate as low as 40 beats per minute.

Your heart rate will change as you exert yourself throughout the day. For example, your heart rate while running will be faster than your walking heart rate.

How to Measure Your Heart Rate

You can measure your own heart rate in a couple of ways — manually or with technology like a fitness tracker or heart rate monitor. If you're measuring it on your own, the Mayo Clinic offers these instructions to check your pulse:

  1. On your neck:‌ Place your index and third fingers on your neck to the side of your windpipe.
  2. On your wrist:‌ Place two fingers between the bone and the tendon over your radial artery, which is located on the thumb side of your wrist.

Once you feel your pulse, count the number of beats for 15 seconds. Multiply that number by four to calculate your beats per minute.

Fitness trackers are another way to calculate your heart rate. Typically worn around your wrist, they can monitor your heart rate during all hours of the day and determine when your heart rate rises.

How to Lower Your Heart Rate

For long-term solutions, lowering your heart rate can be achieved over time by improving your fitness.

The CDC recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as walking briskly or biking) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (like running or hiking) each week. Any activity counts as long as it elevates your heart rate above resting levels.


The CDC also recommends resistance training twice weekly to build muscle. Keeping your heart and body strong will give you energy and stamina to do everyday tasks with less effort.

"Other measures to lower your heart rate involve avoiding stimulants such as caffeine or tobacco, improving your sleep habits and managing stress," Dr. Diakos says.

When to See a Doctor

An abnormal heart rate should be monitored, and if it continues, it's time to see a doctor, Dr. Diakos says. If you experience irregular heartbeats, including a racing heartbeat, slow heartbeat or a heart flutter, you may be experiencing a heart arrhythmia, according to MU Health Care.

"I recommend seeing a doctor when the resting heart rate is persistently high or persistently low without being a trained athlete," Dr. Diakos says.

If you believe you are having irregular heart activity, contact your doctor right away.