TUESDAY, April 16 (HealthDay News) -- Faster heart rates in
otherwise healthy men could be a harbinger of an earlier death,
even among those who exercise, a new Danish study suggests.
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 not exercising.
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."
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
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
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 percent 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 said.
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 study.
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.
The study appears online April 15 in the journal
For more about
heart disease, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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