Ways Your Heart Rate Can Predict Your Future Health

If you've ever been on a cardio machine, you've probably seen those charts that show different heart rate ranges based on your age and your desired cardio goals. Moderate intensity will range between 50 and 70% of your maximum heart rate, and vigorous exercise will have your heart beating between 70 and 85% of your max (per the American Heart Association). It's no secret that exercise can strengthen your heart, but your resting heart can give you an idea of how healthy you are.

When you're not exercising, your heart will beat between 60 and 100 times per minute. A low resting heart rate usually means you're keeping yourself physically fit, and a higher resting heart rate means your heart has to work harder to pump blood through your body, according to Harvard Medical School.

While your resting heart rate can measure the efficiency of your heart, heart rate variability shows how resilient your body is to changing situations. While your heart might beat a certain number of times per minute, there's a slight variation in the time between consecutive beats. Heart rate variability measures this variation (per Cleveland Clinic). Your resting heart rate and your heart rate variability can not only indicate your current health, but they can also predict your future health and longevity.

A higher resting heart rate is linked to higher health risk

A 2016 meta-analysis in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that a higher resting heart rate is linked to a higher risk of death from all causes and cardiovascular disease. Specifically, for every 10 beats per minute increase in resting heart rate, there was a 9% higher risk of all-cause mortality and an 8% higher risk of cardiovascular mortality. People whose resting heart rate was 80 beats per minute or higher had a 45% higher risk for all-cause mortality and a 33% higher risk for cardiovascular death.

A high resting heart rate is also linked to other diseases, according to a 2018 article in Heart. After considering factors like blood pressure and existing medical conditions, the researchers found that a higher resting heart rate was linked to an increased risk of death, not just from heart disease but also from various types of cancer such as breast, colorectal, kidney, and lung cancer.

Keeping a low resting heart rate throughout your life is also good for your health. A 2019 article in Open Heart followed men for 21 years to see how their resting heart rates had changed. The men whose resting heart rate remained stable for those years had a 44% lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those whose resting heart rate increased.

A low heart rate variability says you're under stress

Unlike a high resting heart rate, high heart rate variability is a good thing. It means your body can withstand stress and adapt. A low heart rate variability could mean that your body is currently under stress or could have health problems in the future (per the Cleveland Clinic). Although you needed to see a doctor to measure your heart rate variability in the past, wearable trackers such as the Apple Watch and Oura Ring are becoming more reliable in tracking your heart rate variability, according to a 2023 article in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

A 2019 article in Biological Research for Nursing looked at heart rate variability and its connection to the risk of cardiovascular events and death in people with heart disease. A low heart rate variability doubles your risk of all-cause mortality and a 46% higher risk for a cardiovascular event.

Lastly, many diseases start with inflammation, and your heart rate variability can tell you how well your body manages inflammation. According to a 2019 article in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, higher heart rate variability is linked with lower levels of inflammation.