Heart rates can be measured in two states – at resting state when a person is at rest or in an active state, when a person is engaged in strenuous physical activity. The heart rates can easily be measured by taking the pulse rate of the person and is expressed as beats per minute.
A resting heart rate is important because it has been shown to be a good predictor of coronary events in men. However, its significance in women’s cardiovascular health was not clear. A recent report in the British Medical Journal of the British Medical Association, however, may have found the link. American researchers followed up 129,135 postmenopausal women with no history of heart problems as part of the Women’s Health Initiative program. The women were monitored for an average of 7.8 years for cardiovascular events and hospitalizations. Risk factors that usually affect heart rates, such as “high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, smoking and alcohol intake were taken into account at the start of the study.”
During the follow up period, 2,281 coronary events (heart attacks and coronary deaths) and 1,877 strokes were reported by the participants.
Those women with the highest heart rate at rest (more than 76 beats per minute) had a significantly higher likelihood of suffering from a coronary event than those women with the lowest resting heart rate of 62 beats per minute or less. However, no association to the likelihood of having a stroke was found.
This link between the resting heart rate and coronary risk was independent of the risk factors physical activity, diabetes, and ethnicity but seems to be associated with age; the link is stronger in women aged 50 to 64 years and less stronger among those who are 65 years or older.
The authors conclude that
“Resting heart rate is a simple, inexpensive measurement that independently predicts heart attacks and coronary deaths, but not stroke, in postmenopausal women…Although the strength of this association is less than cigarette smoking or diabetes, it may be large enough to be clinically meaningful.”
Contrary to popular belief, the number one cause of mortality of women in the US is not breast cancer but cardiovascular disease. The study findings suggest that it may be worthwhile for women with high resting heart rates to adopt new lifestyle strategies to prevent cardiovascular problems such as a low-fat diet, blood pressure management, maintaining a healthy weight and engaging in physical activity.
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