As you grow older, your health issues can increase, and with each new challenge, it becomes more difficult to know what is “normal” and what is not. A new challenge may not feel normal when you’re experiencing it for the first time, but that doesn’t mean it’s abnormal for the life stage you’re at.
The heart is a bit of an enigma and gets blamed for many of the health problems seniors experience. In this article, we’ll provide an overview of the normal heart rate for seniors, look at ways to measure it, learn to recognize signs of an abnormal heart rate and provide tips for promoting a healthy heart rate.
The information presented below is meant to inform, not diagnose, and you shouldn’t hesitate to talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about your heart rate or health.
Table of Contents
Understanding Heart Rate and Age-Related Changes
Heart rate is the rate or speed at which your heart beats, and it’s determined by counting the number of beats per minute while you’re at rest. In all adults, including seniors, a normal resting heart rate can be anywhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute. But note: the lower the number within this range, the better.
Your heart rate can be an important indicator of your overall health. Although it’s normal for the heart rate to increase due to physical activity or stress, a resting heart rate that’s consistently higher or lower than usual may be a sign of heart problems or other health concerns. Outside factors that can also increase the resting heart rate include dehydration, smoking and drinking too much alcohol or caffeine.
As you get older, your heart and blood vessels may start to undergo physical changes that could put you at risk of developing heart disease or heart failure, and it may influence your heart rate as well. Your resting heart rate shouldn’t change significantly with normal aging, but the one change you can expect to see is that your heart won’t be able to beat as fast or work as hard as it used to during exercise or physical activity.
Factors Affecting Your Heart Rate
When you’re physically active, your muscles use up more oxygen than when you’re resting. To meet the demand, your heart starts pumping oxygen-rich blood to your muscles more quickly, resulting in an increased heart rate. This increase is part of the normal functioning of the body and shouldn’t be something to be concerned about.
However, you should be concerned about stress, anxiety and strong emotions such as anger and hostility. Experiencing any of these can cause your body to release stress hormones, inducing a fight or flight response. When this happens, your heart rate and breathing become faster, and your blood pressure soars. This stress response can be useful in times of imminent danger, but when it happens frequently it may lead to a number of health concerns, including an irregular heart rate and rhythm, which further increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Certain medications and medical conditions may also affect your heart rate. Always be aware of the possible side effects of prescription and over-the-counter medicines, as some may cause your heart rate to increase, decrease or beat with an irregular rhythm. Health concerns that may raise your heart rate include anemia, diabetes, hyperthyroidism and sleep apnea.
Monitoring Your Heart Rate
All adults should monitor their resting heart rates at least once a week, and seniors should do so daily if possible. A good time to do this is first thing in the morning, before enjoying your first cup of coffee or getting out of bed.
To measure your heart rate, you could use a wearable device such as a fitness tracker or heart monitor. These devices are especially useful for people who’d also like to monitor their heart rates during exercise. But if you don’t have a heart monitor or fitness tracker, no problem. It’s quite easy to check your heart rate manually, and all you need is a watch with a second hand or the timer on your phone.
To measure your heart rate manually, you must first locate your pulse. The easiest places to feel your pulse are:
- Your wrist: on the thumb’s side, just below the base of your hand
- Your neck: to the side of the windpipe, just below the jaw
Place the tips of your index and middle fingers on your pulse and press down lightly. Count the beats for 30 seconds and multiply by two to find the number of beats per minute. This is your heart rate. You can also assess your heartbeat’s rhythm during this time by noticing whether your pulse is regular, with beats at fixed intervals, or irregular.
When to Seek Medical Attention
An abnormal heart rate can be an indication of arrhythmia, an irregular heart rhythm characterized by a heart that’s beating too fast, too slowly or irregularly. It’s much more common in seniors than younger people and may require treatment. Symptoms include a fluttering in the chest, a feeling that the heart is skipping beats, or the feeling of beating too fast, too slowly or too hard. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms while also feeling dizzy, tired or weaker than usual, you should seek medical advice.
Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Heart Rate
We cannot control all aspects of our health, but there are things we can do to promote a healthy heart rate and a healthy heart:
- Exercise regularly: Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate activity five times per week.
- Manage stress: Activities such as yoga and meditation can help you relax.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Eat a balanced diet and reduce your salt intake to stay healthy.
- Avoid dehydration: Drink enough water and limit caffeine intake to stay hydrated.
- Stop smoking: Regular smoking can decrease the oxygen available for your heart to use, making it work harder.
The Bottom Line
Just as your heart rate can be an indicator of your overall health, taking measures to maintain a healthy heart rate can greatly benefit the health of your heart. Become actively involved in your health care by monitoring your heart rate daily and consulting with your doctor if you have any concerns or notice any changes.