I’ve learned something amazing about my resting heart rate, and I want to share it today, so you can apply that knowledge to your own resting heart rate and what you eat.
That’s right…your food and your average resting heart rate are closely connected.
In this post, you’ll learn how your resting heart rate can be a signal to you that you’re on the right or wrong track when it comes to eating healthy and losing weight.
NOTE: I am not a doctor, and the ideas I express in this post are based on my own experiences.
I’m semi-obsessive about knowing my resting heart rate, only because the data is so informative when you compare how your resting heart rate changes, when you change what you’re eating!
I’ve been tracking my heart rate for a few years now with my Fitbit, and the information has been eye-opening.
Before I dive into how to calculate your own resting heart rate and also how knowing yours can help you get healthier and lose weight :), let’s clarify what it is.
What is your resting heart rate?
Your resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats in 60 seconds when you are at rest. Being at rest in this case means being perfectly still and not moving for a few minutes. Your average resting heart rate for a day is an average of your resting heart rate at different times of the day.
Each time your heart beats, it pumps blood to and from your blood vessels. This life-giving process moves your blood to all the areas of your body, which pull oxygen and nutrients from the blood.
When at rest, your heart is beating/pumping at a slower rate than when you’re standing, moving or doing any form of exercise. Your heart will beat the minimum number of beats needed to do the job of just being at rest and circulating your blood.
If you want more detailed information about your heart and your resting heart rate, see the links at the bottom of this post.
How do you calculate your resting heart rate?
My discovery of my own resting heart rate was amplified through the use of my Fitbit, which I’ve had for three years. I’ll talk about the insights I gained a little later in the post.
You don’t need a Fitbit, Smartwatch or any other fitness watch to find out your resting heart rate, but I highly recommend you give one a try. A device will track your heart rate (and other valuable data) for you, over time, and it will be much easier to monitor.
A simple way to find your resting heart rate is by feeling your pulse.
- First, sit down or lie down and stay that way for a few minutes (longer if you’ve just been moving your body). You should feel really calm before you begin.
- Next, put a finger or two against the front of your neck, just to either side and below your chin (don’t use your thumb because it has its own pulse) and feel your pulse.
- Finally, count the beat of your pulse for 10 seconds and then multiply that number by 6 to find how many times your heart beats in 60 seconds.
If you do a little research, you’ll find the general range for an adult’s resting heart rate is 60 – 100 beats per minute (bpm).
However, there are variations based on activity level and genetics. Some athletes have a resting heart rate in the 40’s. Genetically, the people in my family tend to have lower resting heart rates than the average person.
Other factors can affect your resting heart rate too: lifestyle, caffeine, alcohol, emotions, stress levels, sleep, exercise, illness, medications, smoking, etc.
Before I get into why your resting heart rate is a number you want to know, it’s important to point out two things:
1) Your resting heart rate is only one factor that can provide indications of your health.
2) It’s wise to be aware of your resting heart rate but not obsessive about it.
Why is your resting heart rate important?
Your heart is a precious organ that deserves to be nurtured. If we take better care of our hearts, we’ll be taking better care of our overall health.
It’s normal for your heart rate to increase when you move or exercise, because it’s pumping blood (which contains needed oxygen) to your body parts and tissues. The increased energy needed for the activity requires more oxygen.
When at rest, however, your heart shouldn’t have too work hard. It should just be hanging out on the sofa, RESTING. All it needs to do at this point is keep enough blood moving, so your body can function at rest.
What happens if your resting heart rate goes up over time?
When your heart has to start working harder just to move the blood through your body while your body is at rest, then your heart has to pump more vigorously than it should have to.
Let’s imagine that a healthy resting heart rate for you is 60 bpm. While you’re at rest, your heart beats 60 times, which means it’s going at one beat per second. Since this is a healthy rate for your body, you hardly notice your heart rate, and your heart is happily doing its job without any added stress.
Over the years, however, you might realize your resting heart rate has risen to 70 beats per minute. That means your heart now has to beat 10 more times in each minute to get all the blood circulated around your body.
This part is important: Your heart has to do the exact same job, but now, it has to beat an extra 10 times in one minute, just to keep you alive, at REST. That’s a LOT of extra work.
Think about that for a minute. Do you want your heart working harder than it has to?
Later, you’ll learn that most of what affects your heart rate is UP TO YOU. You provide an environment for your heart, and it’s the environment you provide that will determine if your heart has to overwork or not.
What should your heart rate be?
The ideal situation is for your resting heart rate to be as comfortably low as it can be for your body.
The Mayo Clinic reports that, “Generally, a lower heart rate at rest implies more efficient heart function and better cardiovascular fitness.”
You don’t have to worry about what your heart rate is compared to others, but you should know your own resting heart rate, and how the environment you provide can change it.
How can you lower your heart rate?
There are many things you can do to lower your heart rate, such as: not smoking, getting better quality sleep, reducing your stress, drinking enough water, losing weight and of course exercise (yes…getting your heart rate UP during exercise actually helps to keep your resting heart rate DOWN).
Although all these factors make a difference, I have noticed the biggest impact comes from what I’m eating: FOOD and ALCOHOL.
Let me prove it to you.
How does food and alcohol affect your resting heart rate?
I’ve been tracking my resting heart rate for three years, and a pattern has clearly emerged.
When I eat a very healthy diet focused on plenty of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes and a little bit of nuts and seeds, my resting heart rate hovers around 54 bpm (52-56).
When I start to indulge in richer foods like alcohol, dairy, processed foods, refined flour, added oils and sugar, meat, eggs, or high-salt foods, my resting heart rate begins to rise. The longer I continue to eat the richer foods, the higher my resting heart rate climbs. I’ve seen my resting heart rate go as high as 70.
The difference between 54 and 70 is 16 beats per minute!
When I choose to regularly eat richer, less healthy food, I’m making my heart work harder unnecessarily; every single minute, it has to beat 16 more times than it should have to.
Yikes! I find that really scary, and I don’t want to put extra pressure on my heart.
Many times in the past, when lying quietly in bed, and after an evening of eating a lot of fried or rich food, I could FEEL my heart beating…almost pounding. I could really feel it in my chest. Another yikes! That’s another indication consuming indulgent food makes our hearts work harder.
It’s not just about the health of my heart. When my heart rate increases over time, guess what else goes up?
Yep. My weight.
Rich/indulgent foods are the cause of my weight gain, not my heart rate, but when I track my resting heart rate on my Fitbit, and see it skyrocket, it’s a loud reminder to me that the food I’m shoveling into my mouth is NOT doing my weight or my health any good.
My rising resting heart rate is like an alarm that alerts me to the poor environment I’m providing for my heart.
Although there are other factors I mentioned that can also affect your resting heart rate, based on my own experience, those factors do not have the same, powerful impact that food and alcohol have.
If you track your resting heart rate every day, over a period of weeks or months, you’ll start to notice your patterns. My husband also has a Fitbit, and when his eating patterns shift to healthier food, he also loses weight and can see his resting heart rate decrease.
Let’s look at some screenshots from my Fitbit app, so you can see the data I see.
Note: On occasion, there have been times when I’ve eaten very well, but my heart rate went up because my body was fighting a cold or some other bug.
If you’re curious about the Mary’s Mini Diet, check out the post where I talk about it.
When you move from a period of unhealthy eating to healthy eating, and vice versa, you’ll see that it takes a few days for your resting heart rate to adjust to the new environment.
I am convinced, beyond any doubt, that the environment your heart wants is the one that keeps its resting heart rate low. Based on my own experience, a resting heart rate stays low when you keep 90% of your food in the green zone.
When you eat in the green zone, you’re piling your plate with vegetables (including yummy potatoes, sweet potatoes and yams), whole grains, legumes (beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils) and fruit. Nuts and seeds are ok too, but only in small amounts (they are high in fat and calories).
What your resting heart rate is today or next month is not an exact science, and like I said earlier, there are a variety of factors that influence your resting heart rate.
Overall though, I have seen patterns, like the ones I showed in my Fitbit screenshots, many times when I looked at my heart rate data. The ups and downs of my resting heart rate are typical for me, because of the ups and downs in my eating habits and weight.
Find your Range
My Fitbit data has shown me that my resting heart rate range is 52-70 bpm.
This is valuable information because when I see my resting heart rate leaving the 50’s, and moving into the 60’s, I can wake myself up and look more carefully at my food and alcohol intake. I can remind myself that my health (which includes not being overweight) is important to me.
Finding your resting heart rate range is one of the best ways to learn about how your heart responds, over time (not day to day), to the environment you give it.
That environment can include sleep, exercise, etc., but to really find your range, you need to experiment with food and alcohol (if you don’t drink alcohol, that’s one less thing to worry about).
Follow the steps below to find the range for your resting heart rate:
Step 1 Find your average resting heart rate for each day for a 2 week period. Don’t change what you’re doing. Eat your normal diet, and continue with the lifestyle you usually live.
Although you can find your resting heart rate without a Fitbit or other tracking device, to track it over time, I would highly recommend you use a Fitbit or other device.
Step 2 Record the range of your daily resting heart rate.
Step 3 Start to experiment with your food and alcohol intake. Eat as clean/healthy as you possibly can, by eating foods only in the green zone for at least 10 days, preferably 2 weeks. If you are unwilling or unable to give up alcohol or some of your favorite rich, indulgent foods, keep them to a bare minimum (a teeny, tiny amount). The more you eat from the red zone, the less you are likely to find what your lowest resting heart rate will be.
Step 4 After completing Step 3, record your new resting heart rate range. If you were completely honest with yourself during the process and you really stayed within the green zone foods, you’ll see that your resting heart rate has very likely gone down.
You have now seen that the food you eat can reduce your resting heart rate over time.
Knowing the range of your resting heart rate will help you know your own body better, and it will help you make better decisions when deciding on what food to eat and how often you drink alcohol.
As you continue to monitor your resting heart rate over time (NOT obsessively), you may see the range change.
If you get into some very rich and indulgent food during a holiday or vacation, you may see your resting heart rate climb higher than the top number in your range. When that happens, you now have additional data and you have a new range.
Here’s an example of what this could look like.
Original Range: 70-78 bpm–2 weeks of tracking your resting heart rate while eating your normal diet
Experiment Range: 62-70 bpm–2 weeks of tracking your resting heart rate while eating foods only in the green zone
New Range: 62-78 bpm
- Your new range tells you that the closer you are to 62 bpm for your resting heart rate range, the better you’re eating, the better your food choices, and the more likely you are to lose weight.
- It also tells you that the further away you are from 62 bpm, and the closer you are to 78 bpm in your resting heart rate range, the worse you are eating, and the more likely it is that you will be gaining weight and compromising your health.
After being on vacation, Range: 74-81…Now your new range is 62-81.
Of course, part of finding your range and part of learning about your body and your heart is making discoveries by experimenting with foods.
If you regularly eat meat, dairy and eggs, as most of the modern world does, then to really see how low your resting heart rate can go down, you’ll need to go without those foods for a couple of weeks.
If you consume alcohol every week, you’ll need to go without (I know, it’s hard to give up your wine–it’s hard for me too) for a couple of weeks to see the results.
Also, if you’re a smoker, then I don’t know what the effect will be on your resting heart rate if you follow the above steps to find your range. I am an ex-smoker (free of cigarettes for 17 years).
NOTE: My advice is based on my own experiences. I am not a doctor or health practitioner, so consult your doctor if you have concerns about your heart rate (or blood pressure, which is closely related).
A couple of final suggestions:
If you really want to learn more about how the food you eat affects your weight and health, consider tracking your food while you go through the steps of finding your resting heart rate range.
There are two posts to help you with that. The first is how and why to use food tracking, and the second is to score your food tracking results with two questionnaires and an analysis.
If you want to eat healthier, and would like to discover the secrets to deconstructing busy, distracting food labels on packaged products, download my FREE Reading Food Labels Guide. Don’t be fooled by food manufacturers!
I wish you energy and motivation when it comes to becoming the healthier, happier person you want to be. I know you can achieve your goals if you just keep trying. Never give up. 🙂
As promised, see the resources below regarding the heart and resting heart rate.
- Harvard Medical School
- Mayo Clinic
- Heart & Stroke (healthy heart)
- Heart & Stroke (target heart rates)
- Heart Attack and Stroke Symptoms
Live your true life,
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