Listen to the Rhythm: Heart Rate and Health

Heart rate in older adults at risk of heart disease may signal loss of daily function


Your heart — or more specifically, your heart rate — may be able to provide important indications of your overall health.

A new study from the Netherlands found that a higher resting heart rate and lower heart rate variability in older adults at risk of heart disease was linked to potential loss of daily function and future decline.

"Because functional disability develops gradually, it is important to identify it early and take steps to delay decline, such as exercise, medication and other interventions," said lead study author Behnam Sabayan, Md, PhD, from the Department of Gerontology and Geriatrics at Leiden University in the Netherlands, in a press release. "This is especially important with an aging population, which could mean rising numbers of people who have problems with daily functioning."

Heart rate is the number of times the heart beats per minute. Heart rate variability is an indication of the heart’s ability to respond to stress, such as exercise.

Dr. Sabayan and team looked at more than 5,000 seniors ranging in age from 70 to 82 that lived in Ireland, Scotland or the Netherlands.

Slightly more than half of these participants were women and all were at risk of heart disease.

These researchers used specialized tools to look at how well participants were able to perform activities of daily living (ADLs), such as grooming, walking, housework or shopping.

The participants were followed for for a little more than three years.

Those with the highest resting heart rates had nearly an 80 percent increased risk of decline in ADLs. Those with the lowest heart rate variability also had a 25 percent increased risk of decline in ADLs.

These findings support previous research on heart rate.

This study was published in the August issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

No funding sources or conflicts of interest were disclosed.