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What does heart rate changes with exercise tell you about your risk of future heart disease?

What does heart rate changes with exercise tell you about your risk of future heart disease?

Assessing the risk of developing heart disease can be challenging. A person with a first degree relative with premature coronary artery disease is at increased risk of developing heart disease themselves. Although you can’t change your family history you can modify those other factors that are associated with a raised cardiovascular risk such as high blood pressure, raised cholesterol, weight gain, smoking and exercise activity.

Exercise has been shown to be one of the most important lifestyle changes to modify your global cardiovascular risk. Heart rate recovery time after exercise is a powerful predictor of cardiovascular and non- cardiovascular mortality. Heart rate recovery time is the time it takes for the heart rate to return back to normal after exercise. 

Research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in over 19,000 participants showed that if your heart rate failed to decline by more than 13 beats in the first minute after stopping exercise then your risk of mortality was significantly higher than those patients whose heart rate recovered by a greater degree.

These findings were demonstrated in a primary prevention population, that is to say in a group of patients who are not known to have any heart problems. As a measure, heart rate recovery is useful for assessing risk in many populations irrespective of sex, age, obesity, hypertension and diabetes. It was not so useful in predicting outcomes in patients taking b blockers, current smokers or those with normal cardiorespiratory fitness. Although a very large study this was still a retrospective analysis.

This important study does, however, demonstrate the prognostic importance of exercise stress testing and the utility of heart rate recovery for risk stratification. Taking steps to improve your overall fitness and exercise performance will help reduce your risk of heart disease.