How Does Your Heart Rate Change?

Overview

Your heart rate reflects your age, your fitness level, what you’ve been eating and drinking, your overall health and your activity level at any given moment. As a result, it is always changing. It accelerates briefly when you run to catch a bus, but if you run every day for exercise, your overall resting heart rate will be slower than someone who doesn’t run. A rapid resting heart rate could be a sign of health trouble, but a slow resting heart rate is usually a sign that you have a healthy cardiovascular system.

Aging

Your maximum heart rate—your pulse when you are exercising at the point of exhaustion—declines each year about one beat per minute. According to Montana State University, your resting pulse also changes with age, measuring between 130 and 140 beats per minute your first year, 85 to 100 until the age of 12 and then settling at about 72 beats per minute—or lower for athletes—most of your adult life. It starts to climb again after age 60.

Exercising

Exercising every day strengthens your heart and increases its volume, allowing you to push a greater amount of blood through your bloodstream to your working muscles, according to researchers at the University of Michigan. Your heart rate for a given level of exercise—say a brisk walk at 4 miles per hour—will decline as your heart becomes better conditioned. The walls of your left ventricle, the pumping chamber of your heart, also will thicken somewhat.

Resting pulse

According to the Michigan researchers, regular exercise will also lower your resting pulse rate by 12 to 15 beats per minute. This is because exercise improves your circulatory system so much that the heart doesn’t have to work as hard to get blood to your organs and extremities.

Heat

Your heart rate increases if you’re dehydrated or suffering from heat stroke. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the best way to treat dehydration and heat stroke is to drink water or sports drinks. But avoid avoid tea, coffee, soda and alcohol. These beverages can worsen the situation.

Drinking

Drinks with caffeine will also increase your heart rate. According to the University of Washington, it takes about six hours for half of the caffeine you swallow to be eliminated from your body. In the meantime, caffeine constricts blood vessels, improves breathing, allows some muscles to contract more easily — and accelerates your heart rate. Drinking alcohol also can slow or speed your heart rate.

Diet

Your metabolic rate, including your heart rate, increases after a meal as your body works to digest the food you’ve eaten. According to researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles, some dietary supplements that purport to accelerate metabolism and burn fat contain ephedra and caffeine, and also will accelerate your heart rate and burn more calories.

About this Author

Jim Sloan is a writer and editor in Reno, Nevada. He has been a journalist for more than 25 years and is the author of two books, “Staying Fit After Fifty,” and “Nevada: True Tales from the Neon Wilderness.”