A Publication of WTVP

Most people are lead to believe a low resting heart rate is considered to be a determinant of whether someone is cardiovascularly fit or healthy. However, heart rate alone doesn't give a complete picture of a person's cardiovascular health. If a person's heart rate is normal, a physician wouldn't suggest trying to lower it. Furthermore, if you were born with a finite number of heartbeats for your lifetime, a slower heart rate would be desirable, since you would live longer before using up your allotment. However, there's no such fixed number of heartbeats.

According to cardiologist Dr. Henry Solomon, "There is no evidence that a slower resting heart rate is healthier than a heart rate somewhat faster, or that a quicker return to a resting heart rate after exercise is inherently beneficial. Nobody has ever shown any biological advantage to a slower heart rate."

If a person has a heart condition, physical activity may provoke chest pains or breathlessness because too little oxygen is supplied to the heart muscle when this person exerts himself. By lowering resting heart rate and blood pressure, this person would reduce the heart muscle's need for oxygen and bring that need into balance with the oxygen supply. However, think of the paradox: to achieve a slower resting heart rate and lower resting blood pressure, we're told to consistently raise our heart rate and blood pressure by performing regular physical activity.

Elevated heart rate isn't even an indicator of exercise intensity, exercise effect, or exercise value. It's quite possible to experience an elevated pulse rate, labored breathing, and profuse sweating without achieving valuable exercise. Intense emotional experiences and many medications commonly cause these symptoms without a shred of exercise benefit.

Heart rate charts are commonly posted in fitness centers, and heart rate monitors are becoming popular among exercise enthusiasts. These methods are generally only useful for a person who already has a diagnosed cardiovascular condition. Also, many authorities mistakenly define exercise intensity by heart rate magnitude. Since heart rate may rise or fall without respect to exercise intensity, heart rate isn't a sufficient indicator of exercise intensity.

According to Dr. Brian Sharkey, "The use of training heart rate and emphasis on cardiovascular effects of training has diverted attention from the true target of training-skeletal muscle."

Many studies have shown that increased muscular strength improves day-to-day functional ability and aerobic endurance. Most of the improvement in functional capacity due to exercise isn't even directly related to the heart or having a lower heart rate. It's due to an effect on the peripheral muscle cells whereby they more efficiently extract oxygen from the blood. Therefore, more emphasis should be placed on strengthening muscles rather than lowering resting heart rates because stronger muscles decrease the stress placed on the heart as we enjoy our daily activities and recreational pursuits. IBI