There are many well-known phrases and quotes associated with heartbeat. Famed author Edith Wharton related to her dog, in writing about heart rate. She said, “My little dog – a heartbeat at my feet.”
But as much as we love to tie our heart rate to romantic notions, there are real connections to things around us which increase our heart rate for both the short and long term. Some of these are healthy, whereas others should be avoided.
About Your Heart Rate
Your pulse, often referred to as heart rate, is the number of heartbeats per minute. While normal pulse varies from individual to individual according to many factors, knowing what your own healthy heart rate is can help you gauge ongoing wellness.
To find your own pulse, the best readings are gained from the wrists, inside of elbows, side of your neck and top of your foot. For accuracy, place a finger over the pulse point and count the number of beats occurring within 60 seconds.
When sitting or standing still, your heart rate is lower than when working out or involved in intense activity or stress. This is because the body only pumps what blood it needs and being sedentary requires the least amount.
The most true pulse rate is determined when you are at rest, relaxed and do not have an illness. During these times, your heart will beat between 60 beats per minute and 100 beats per minute. Athletes and people taking beta blockers may have pulse rates lower than 60 beats per minute.
Once a baseline, resting heart rate is established, you can track your pulse at other times to see how certain activities, foods, stressors and behaviors affect your heart rate.
Short-Term Heart Rate Influencers
Short-term heart rate influencers are things that will go away or are not constantly present. These are not necessarily detrimental and such increases in heart rate can be totally normal.
Some of these influencers include:
- Illness – When you suffer from fever, injury, anemia, or infection, your heart rate increases to provide more oxygen throughout the body and for other functions, in response to triggers by the immune system.
- Emotional Stress – You have likely heard of the “fight or flight” response. Part of this response to fear or stress is increased heart rate which will return to normal as the stress is reduced.
- Physical Exertion – Exercise makes your heart beat faster in a very healthy way, as it works to provide oxygen to the muscles and tissues being worked.
- Drugs – Whether prescribed, herbal or illicit, medications and street drugs can cause an unhealthy, rapid heartbeat.
- Extreme Temperature – Very cold conditions cause your heart rate to increase to bring more blood to the surface of the skin and warm it. The same can happen in extreme heat.
- Glycogen Levels – If your blood sugar level drops, the body will react by quickening pulse, working to fuel muscles and provide energy.
- Dehydration – When the body is dehydrated, blood does not move as well within its vessels. Waste builds up in the bloodstream, so the heart pumps faster to flush out those wastes.
- Caffeine – Caffeinated beverages and snacks like chocolate coffee beans increase the heart rate.
- Alcohol – Drinking alcohol causes blood vessels in the limbs to dilate. This means the heart has to work harder to pump blood to these extended areas. This raises the heart rate.
- Smoking – Cigarettes and other nicotine products cause increased heart rate during and shortly after use. Over time, smoking also causes long-term high blood pressure.
Influencers of Heart Rate for the Long-Term
Tachycardia is increased heart rate. When an increased heart rate is present for a long period of time, it often indicates an underlying medical condition. Many of those conditions may be treated through medication or other means.
Some causes of long-term rapid heart rate include:
- Hyperthyroidism – This disorder of the thyroid causes the heart to increase its rate as long as the condition is untreated. Medication, surgery and other treatments can treat hyperthyroidism and the heart rate will return to normal ranges.
- Congestive heart failure – This heart problem is one wherein the heart must work extra hard to pump blood. This eventually will lead to heart attack.
- Arrhythmias – These “irregular heartbeats” are inconsistencies in the speed of the heart’s activity. The condition is usually due to salt imbalance in the body, heart attack or other problems.
- Nerve damage – Often occurring in the peripheral nervous system branching into arms and legs, this condition affects nerves attached to the heart. Diabetes is sometimes a cause of this problem. The underlying condition must be treated.
- Anemia – Low red blood cell count due to lack of enough iron or excessive bleeding can increase the heart rate as the heart works to supply less healthy blood throughout the body. This can be treated through medication or procedures such as infusion.