What Your Resting Heart Rate Says About You

It could hint at how long you’ll live

Mariana Lenharo
Elemental
Published in
7 min readFeb 6, 2020

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Photo: KATERYNA KON/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images

CCould human lives be extended by slowing down our hearts? Triggered by the observation that mammals with a higher heart rate live shorter than those with a slower one, this is the question that Dr. Herbert J. Levine, an eminent cardiologist and professor emeritus at Tufts University School of Medicine, asked in his 1997 article “Rest Heart Rate and Life Expectancy.”

To this day, his question has not been fully answered. But several recent studies have found important links between slower hearts and longer lives, elevating resting heart rate to the level of an important health indicator.

With the increasing popularity of smartwatches and other tracking devices, people are more aware than ever of their own resting heart rates, a measure defined by the number of heartbeats per minute while at rest, like when you’re sitting or lying down, no sooner than two hours after exercising. But how exactly to interpret that number, and what to do with that information, might not be so clear.

To complicate things further, resting heart rates can widely vary from person to person, as much as 70 beats per minute, according to a new study that looked at the largest dataset of daily resting heart rates ever collected.

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Mariana Lenharo
Elemental

Science and health journalist with a special interest in evidence-based medicine and epidemics. Columbia Journalism School alumna. mari.lenharo@gmail.com.