A resting heart rate of 75 beats per minute in mid-life is linked to a doubling in the risk of an early death from all causes, at least among men, research* published in the online journal Open Heart shows.
And the study also found that those men who had an increase in heart rate in their 50s experienced a heightened risk of heart disease over the next 11 years.
To find out what impact a resting heart rate at the higher end of the normal range might have on long-term health and risk of early death, the researchers studied a randomly selected group of men aged 50+ from the general population, all of whom had been born in 1943 in Gothenburg, Sweden.
In 1993, 798 out of a total of 1450 filled in questionnaires on lifestyle, family history of cardiovascular disease, and stress levels. And they were given a comprehensive medical check-up, which included their resting heart rate, which allowed the group to be put into four categories: 55 or fewer bpm; 56-65 bpm; 66-75 bpm; and more than 75 bpm. Resting heart rate was measured again in 2003 and 2014 among those who were still alive and willing to take part at these time points (654 and 536, respectively).
During the 21-year monitoring period, 119 (just under 15%) of the original 798 men died before their 71st birthday; 237 (nearly 28%) developed cardiovascular disease; and 113 (just over 14%) developed coronary heart disease.
Men whose resting heart rate in 1993 was higher than 55 bpm were more likely to be smokers, less physically active, and more stressed than those whose rate was lower. They were also more likely to have other cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as higher blood pressure and weight. A resting heart rate of 75+ bpm in 1993 was associated with around a twofold higher risk of death from any cause, from cardiovascular disease, and from coronary heart disease, compared with a resting heart rate of 55 or below.
Men whose resting heart rate was stable between 1993 and 2003, when the men were aged 50 to 60, had a 44% lower risk of cardiovascular disease over the next 11 years compared with those who had a resting heart rate that had increased over this period. For every additional beat increase in rate, men had a 3% higher risk of death from any cause, a 1% higher risk of cardiovascular disease, and a 2% higher risk of coronary heart disease.
The researchers suggest that monitoring changes in resting heart rate over time may be important for uncovering future cardiovascular disease risk.
*Chen X, Barywani SB, Hansson P, et al. Impact of changes in heart rate with age on all-cause death and cardiovascular events in 50-year-old men from the general population. Open Heart 2019;6:e000856. doi: 10.1136/openhrt-2018-000856