From maintaining a healthy weight to living longer, eating healthy offers many benefits for our long-term wellbeing. The foods we eat also have a major impact on our heart — especially for those who suffer from a high heart rate.
Having a high heart rate is a dangerous condition that can increase a person’s risk for heart attack, stroke, and cardiovascular disease, all while shortening their life expectancy. Here’s what you should know about heart rate, plus the best foods that lower heart rate and improve quality of life.
Why Does Low Heart Rate Matter?
Heart rate fluctuates throughout the day depending on a person’s activity. According to Harvard Health Publishing’s Howard LeWine, M.D., walking around, lying down, and sitting all require different amounts of effort, which will cause the heart to beat at different rates.
Regardless of this change in activity level, a person’s resting heart rate — the number of heart beats per minute at rest — stays consistent over time. For example, a person’s resting heart rate will be consistent each night during sleep, regardless of the activity they engaged in that day.
Heart rate is an important predictor of health. Some people, such as athletes or pregnant women, are expected to have a lower or higher heart rate, respectively. Age and hormonal fluctuations also affect how fast a person’s heart beats.
When an average person’s resting heart rate falls outside the normal range — 60-90 beats per minute — it can signify a serious health problem. Having a high heart rate is called tachycardia, and there are many types of increased heart rates.
Perhaps the most common type of tachycardia is atrial fibrillation, which is caused by irregular electrical impulses in the upper heart chambers. Atrial fibrillation is a sign of weak contractions in the upper chamber of the heart (the atria). Atrial flutter is an associated condition marked by a rapidly beating atria and a normal heart rate.
A high heart rate doesn’t always cause symptoms, and seeking professional medical advice is sometimes the only way to diagnose this condition properly. When symptoms are present, they can include shortness of breath, lightheadedness, rapid pulse, heart palpitations, chest pain, and fainting. If you’re unable to exercise because of these factors, it’s a sign that it’s time to take control of your heart health. So what happens if you don’t intervene?
The Role of Heart Rate in Heart Attack and Disease
Having a high heart rate can affect everyday life by contributing to daytime fatigue, low fitness levels, and obesity. Yet it’s particularly dangerous because it puts people at higher risk for developing heart disease or suffering from additional cardiovascular disorders.
A high heart rate is linked to health issues like heart disease, stroke, and cardiac arrest. Research also shows that having an above-normal heart rate increases a person’s chance of death, regardless of whether they’re physically fit or generally deemed healthy. This study, which measured 3,000 middle-aged men, found that for every additional 10-22 beats per minute, a man’s chance of death increased by 16%.
Causes of High Heart Rate
The most common causes of high heart rate are hypertension (high blood pressure) and coronary artery disease — both of which can be controlled by lifestyle factors. In particular, things like chronic stress and excessive use of caffeine are all modern factors that contribute to high heart rate.
Additional risk factors that elevate resting heart rate include excessive alcohol consumption and alcoholism, taking certain medications, smoking cigarettes, and taking recreational drugs. High blood pressure is another common cause of high heart rate.
Medical professionals have understood the correlation between lifestyle and heart health for quite some time, but recent research shows that high heart rate can be caused by a variety of genetic factors.
For example, a heart study led by cardiologist Pim van der Harst found 64 gene locations that influence heart rate, suggesting that genes and gene location influence both heart rate and life expectancy more than previously thought. Congenital heart defects, which can be caused at birth or after heart surgery, can also cause the heart to beat irregularly.
Diet plays a significant role in high heart rate because the foods we eat affect our blood pressure. Alcohol and stimulants are especially hard on the heart because they cause dehydration and are considered toxic to the body. This means the heart has to work harder to remove them — leading to an increase in heart rate.
Foods high in fat and sugar also cause an increased heart rate, primarily because they contribute to being overweight or obese, which places more pressure on the heart.
Foods That Lower Heart Rate
Despite the role of chronic and genetic factors in heart health, changing one’s diet to include more healthy foods is the quickest and most effective way a person can achieve a lower heart rate and improve overall health. Lowering your heart rate can reduce the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke while helping lower blood pressure. Here are the nutrient-dense foods that lower heart rate, reduce heart disease, and boost longevity.
Whole grains are an important element of a heart healthy diet and offer many health benefits. A diet high in whole grains has been shown to reduce cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.
Whole grains have also been shown to reduce the risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease — all of which are associated with high heart rate. Whole grains also work to keep you full for longer. This can reduce the risk of overeating to help an overweight person lose extra pounds and reduce excess strain on the heart.
Simple, heart-healthy, whole-grain swaps and substitutes include choosing whole wheat flour instead of refined white flour, oatmeal, bulgur, whole wheat pasta, and barley. They are all examples of healthy whole grains to incorporate into your diet.
Green Vegetables, Leafy Greens, and Fruit
Green vegetables and leafy greens are especially beneficial for cardiovascular health because they contain vitamin K1. Eating high amounts of vitamin K1 can protect against high heart rate and an enlarged heart. It has also been shown to reduce high cholesterol. Fruits and vegetables are low-fat foods that contain fiber, which is known to lower both cholesterol and high blood pressure.
One study found that eating 10 servings of fruit and vegetables a day can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease by 28% while reducing the risk of premature death by 31%. Aside from leafy greens, apples, pears, citrus fruits, cruciferous vegetables, green beans, and peppers were shown to offer the best heart benefits.
Blueberries, which are high in anthocyanins (the phytochemicals that give blueberries their color) have also been shown to improve heart health. Specifically, blueberries have been shown to decrease blood pressure, improve blood vessel function, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3s are healthy fats found in a variety of plant foods and fish. Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the best foods to lower heart rate and reduce the risk of cardiac arrest. There are three main types of Omega-3s. These include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is found in plant oils, and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), both of which are found in fish like salmon, mackerel, and tuna.
Omega-3s keep heart rate low while reducing the risk of irregular heartbeat, slowing down the buildup of artery plaque, and lowering blood pressure. Aside from eating fish, plant foods that contain essential fatty acids include ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, soybeans, and tofu. Walnuts also contain high amounts of Omega-3s, with almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, and pecans coming in second. Avocado, olives, and olive oil are also known to be high in ALA omega-3s.
Eating for a Healthy Heart
Heart rate plays a vital role in a person’s overall health. While athletes, pregnant women, and people with congenital heart defects are expected to have an abnormal heart rate, people outside of these categories should have a resting heart rate between 60-90 beats per minute. Having a heart rate above this range can put a person at risk for a variety of life-threatening diseases and conditions, including heart disease, heart failure, and heart attack.
Fortunately, eating healthier foods is one of the most effective ways a person can reduce their risk of disease and extend their life expectancy. Leafy greens, fruits, whole grains, and items rich in Omega-3s are all examples of foods that lower heart rate and improve overall quality of life.