9 Reasons Your Resting Heart Rate Is High & How To Lower It Naturally
Resting heart rate is an often-overlooked vital sign that can give you major clues about the state of your health. When your resting heart rate is low, you feel relaxed and are more resilient to stress and disease. When it’s high, you’re more susceptible to overwhelm and cardiac issues.
If you’ve discovered that your resting heart rate is high, there are several things you can try to lower it naturally. Here are some ways to lower it over time, from cardiologists.
What is resting heart rate & why is it important?
Just like it sounds, resting heart rate (RHR) refers to your heart rate when you are at rest. It's reflected by the number of heartbeats that can be counted in one minute, explains cardiologist Elizabeth Klodas, M.D. F.A.C.C., the founder of Preventive Cardiology Clinic.
“Resting heart rate is considered a ‘vital sign’ by doctors because it’s not only a reflection of cardiovascular fitness but can also be a clue to the presence of underlying health problems,” she says.
Measuring resting heart rate
There are two ways to measure your heart rate: with a heart rate monitor and without one.
Heart rate monitors are attached to the body either by chest straps, a wristband, or a ring, and they measure electrical activity coming from the heart or the pulsations of the blood vessels, according to Michael Twyman, M.D., a cardiologist focused on heart attack prevention.
Heart rate monitors use non-invasive light technology, but if you prefer not to use a heart rate monitor or you don’t have one, you can also take this vital sign manually.
“You can measure your resting heart rate by taking your pulse on your wrist over the radial artery or on the side of the neck with the carotid artery. The most accurate way to measure the heart rate would be to count the number of beats over a full minute, but a shortcut that is generally accurate as long as you are in normal sinus rhythm is to measure the number of beats over 15 seconds and multiply by four,” says Twyman.
Ideal resting heart rate
An ideal resting heart rate falls between 60 and 100 beats per minute (bpm) for all adults, regardless of age.
“Age is not a major determinant of resting heart rate,” says Klodas. “Rather, it’s the degree of physical fitness that has the biggest impact. Very fit individuals typically have resting heart rates below 60 bpm (so a low heart rate is not necessarily dangerous). Sedentary individuals may have resting heart rates over 90 bpm.”
Anything over 100 bpm is considered a high resting heart rate for adults.
Reasons your resting heart rate is high
There are several reasons your resting heart rate may be high, and they run the gamut from acute stress and anxiety to chronic underlying health problems. Here are some of the most common.
You're feeling anxious
You have anemia
Anemia is a condition in which your body has fewer red blood cells than normal. “If you have fewer red blood cells, you need to pump blood around faster to keep oxygen delivery stable,” says Klodas.
You have hyperthyroidism
When your thyroid is in overdrive, it produces more thyroid hormone than you need, and thyroid hormone drives faster metabolism, which drives higher heart rates, according to Klodas.
You're a smoker, heavy drinker, or drug user
Nicotine, alcohol, and drugs all act as stimulants. Tobacco smoke also reduces circulating oxygen levels. “Both effects would be expected to raise heart rates,” says Klodas.
You are not as active as you could be
Being less physically fit can also have an effect on your heart rate, but it typically goes hand in hand with other causes. “Lack of physical fitness is more of a contributor rather than the sole reason why a resting heart rate is over 100 bpm,” says Klodas.
You have a primary rhythm abnormality
According to Klodas, many abnormal heart rhythms like atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, and supraventricular tachycardia will present with high resting heart rates. “That’s because the heart rate is no longer controlled by the nervous system,” she says.
Your medications are impacting your heart rate
A higher-than-normal heart rate may also be a side effect of a medication you’re on. There are various possible mechanisms at play here, but it’s worth chatting to your doctor about if you’re on a prescription.
You have a fever or illness
Acute illness may also temporarily raise your heart rate. “The cardiac output is the stroke volume (amount of blood ejected from the heart with each heartbeat) multiplied by the heart rate. When you are ill, the cardiac output will generally need to increase to keep up with metabolic demands of the body,” says Twyman.
How to get resting heart rate down fast
In the moment, a high resting heart rate can cause physical symptoms like a racing or pounding heart, shortness of breath, and lightheadedness. If you’re looking for immediate relief, here are some ways to quickly lower your heart rate.
Take deep breaths
According to Twyman, slow, relaxing breathing is the quickest way to get the heart rate down.
Here's a quick routine to try the next time your heart rate is high:
- Inhale for 15 seconds (or as long as you can)
- Hold for 15 seconds (or an equal amount of time)
- Slowly exhale for 15 seconds (or an equal amount of time). The goal is to make the inhale, hold, and exhale the same length, and as slow as possible.
This ties in with deep breathing, but research shows that meditation can also promote positive short-term changes in heart rate. In one small study9, researchers put participants into two groups. One group was new to meditation, and the other group were seasoned meditators. Each group took a 1.5-hour meditation class, with heart rate and heart rate variability measured before and after. All participants experienced a decrease in heart rate immediately after the one class.
How to lower resting heart rate long-term
While practicing ways to lower heart rate in the moment is great for acute stress and overwhelm, the goal is really to lower your resting heart rate long-term by bringing it down gradually over time.
That being said, here are some things you can do to lower your heart rate:
Spend more time in zone 2 cardio
Zone 2 cardio is light aerobic exercise that’s performed within 60% to 70% of your maximum heart rate (MHR). This could mean jogging at a speed where you can still comfortably hold a conversation.
With Zone 2 cardio, stroke volume (the volume of blood your heart pumps with each beat) increases while heart rate decreases. This leads to greater cardiorespiratory endurance over time. “Increasing Zone 2 cardio exercise will over time help keep a lower heart rate as the mitochondria become more efficient11 at energy production,” says Twyman.
Maintain a yoga practice
According to research, yoga can have both a short- and long-term effect on heart rate and parasympathetic tone, or how well your parasympathetic nervous system and vagus nerve are working.
This has a lot to do with the deep breathing12 associated with the practice, but over time, yoga can also improve parasympathetic activity and decrease that fight-or-flight response. In one study13 looking at people who already had existing heart failure, a 12-week yoga practice decreased heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen consumption.
Practice heart rhythm coherence training
Heart coherence is when all your body’s systems—breathing, brain rhythm, hormonal response, and heart rhythms, are in sync with each other. This can help you manage your emotional responses14, which have an impact on your heart rate. HeartMath, a coherence training program, is one of the main modalities Twyman recommends for long-term heart rate control.
Avoid alcohol and nicotine
Since alcohol and nicotine can both increase resting heart rate, avoiding them (or limiting them as much as possible) can help you lower RHR over the long-term.
Consider switching medications
Certain blood pressure medications, such as beta-blockers and calcium channel-blockers, will also lower one’s heart rate. These medications will also make achieving a heart rate target harder during exercise. If you are on blood pressure medication and are concerned about its effect on your heart rate, consult with your doctor.
Resting heart rate vs. Heart rate variability
Resting heart rate and heart rate variability are two terms you may often see associated with each other. And while they’re not the same thing, they do have a close relationship.
Resting heart rate measures the total number of heartbeats detected over one minute in the resting state, while HRV looks at time intervals between adjacent beats. And the greater the variation in those time intervals, the higher the HRV.
“Heart rate and heart rate variability (HRV) are inversely proportional, meaning that when the heart rate increases, the HRV will go down,” says Twyman.
HRV is usually higher in younger individuals and those who are physically fit, notes Klodas. "So higher HRV is often seen in people with lower resting heart rates, and is usually an indicator of higher parasympathetic tone, a more efficient cardiovascular system, and better overall health,” she says.
The major exception here is in people with arrhythmias. In that case, the intervals between beats have nothing to do with parasympathetic tone or physical fitness.
Twyman adds that if you want to get an accurate picture of what’s going on, it’s best to measure HRV when you are in a relaxed state, and your resting heart rate is at its lowest. “During exercise, when the heart rate increases with workload, the HRV will become very low as the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system is activated,” he says.
When to see a doctor
Twyman recommends seeing a doctor if your resting heart rate is over 100 bpm or you’re having symptoms of fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain/pressure, exercise intolerance, dizziness/lightheadedness, palpitations, or passing out.
However, Klodas says that some variability in heart rate is normal, and some people may naturally have a resting heart rate that’s over 100 bpm. “Not everyone fits neatly within the normal range. Just like healthy individuals can have lower than normal resting heart rates, other healthy individuals can have heart rates that are slightly higher than normal,” she says.
Frequently Asked Questions
What causes high heart rate at rest?
A high heart rate at rest can be caused by poor conditioning, dehydration, anxiety and stress, anemia, hyperthyroidism, and fever. Medications, alcohol, and nicotine can also contribute.
What is a high resting heart rate for a woman?
Anything over 100 bpm is considered a high resting heart rate for adults, regardless of sex. That being said, Klodas points out that some adults naturally fall outside of this normal range. If you’re concerned that your heart rate is high, check in with your doctor.
How can I lower my heart rate immediately at home?
Deep breathing is the most effective way to quickly lower your heart rate at home. Take slow, deep breaths for five minutes. Hydrating and going outside in nature may also help.
A low resting heart rate is typically associated with overall health and longevity, while a high resting heart rate can increase your risk of heart disease and other related issues. The goal is to incorporate regular practices, like Zone 2 cardio training, yoga, and heart rhythm coherence training, that can slowly lower your heart rate over time. But while you’re working toward this, you can quickly lower your resting heart rate by deep breathing, hydrating, and taking a walk in nature.
Lindsay Boyers is a holistic nutritionist specializing in gut health, mood disorders, and functional nutrition. Lindsay earned a degree in food & nutrition from Framingham State University, and she holds a Certificate in Holistic Nutrition Consulting from the American College of Healthcare Sciences.
She has written twelve books and has had more than 2,000 articles published across various websites. Lindsay currently works full time as a freelance health writer. She truly believes that you can transform your life through food, proper mindset and shared experiences. That's why it's her goal to educate others, while also being open and vulnerable to create real connections with her clients and readers.