Resting heart rate: What’s optimal?

One of the goals of my exercise program is to reduce my resting heart rate (RHR). A stronger heart beats less times per minute, but pumps more blood per beat. In contrast, a weaker heart beats more times per minute, but less blood per beat.

Is there an optimal level for RHR? Based on a meta-analysis of 59 studies that included 1,810,695 subjects, RHR values < 50 beats per minute (bpm) are associated with maximally reduced risk of death from all causes. Conversely, RHR values > 50 bpm are associated with a higher mortality risk (Aune et al. 2017):

Screen Shot 2019-02-02 at 10.48.29 AM

What’s my resting heart rate? Shown below is that data, tracked by WHOOP since August. Note that my RHR wasn’t significantly different from August until October, ranging from 51-53 bpm (average, 51.7). However, because I was tracking my RHR, I noticed that I was overtraining, leading to very high HRs, lower heart rate variability, and less deep sleep (topics for another post!) the day(s) after exercise. So early in November, I changed my exercise routine. As a result, from November until the end of January, my average RHR (49.7 bpm) has been significantly less (p-value =1E-10), and based on January’s average RHR, I’m trending closer to 47 bpm! Also note that * = significantly different when compared with August.


What did I change in my exercise program? Since I’ve been in Boston (~9 years), I’ve walked 15-20 miles per week: it’s 1.1 miles to and from work, plus at least an hour of walking on Saturdays and Sundays. That’s a constant that hasn’t changed. In contrast, I split my 3-day weight training routine, which totaled ~5-6 hours/week into 3-5 days at less than an hour each session, and at a lower intensity with more reps. My strength is still as good as it was before, and as a result, my recovery HRs aren’t as high, thereby leading to a lower average RHR over time,. I’ve been training like that consistently for the past 30 years, but it took wearing a fitness tracker to change it!



Aune D, Sen A, ó’Hartaigh B, Janszky I, Romundstad PR, Tonstad S, Vatten LJ. Resting heart rate and the risk of cardiovascular diseasetotal cancer, and all-cause mortality – A systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studiesNutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2017 Jun;27(6):504-517.


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3 thoughts on “Resting heart rate: What’s optimal?

  1. Julia

    That’s a great insight! You’ve inspired me to start having my blood tested regularly and I’m curious – should I test the same biomarkers as the ones used by or are there others I should add like CRP or Vit D? Have your thoughts on biomarkers changed in the last 2.5 years since your Quantified Self show and tell? I appreciate you sharing your insights; I’m caring for my elderly parents and although they eat lots of fiber and primarily vegetables – no eggs dairy or meat – frailty has set in and their muscle mass has diminished fairly rapidly over a short amount of time…


    1. Michael Lustgarten Post author

      Hi Julia, I 100% agree with adding more biomarkers, including CRP and Vit D. Excellent biomrkers with elevated CRP would indicate that something’s off, so it’s important to have markers of inflammation, too. If you live in a Northern latitude, then it’s important to know your D status so that you can supplement in the winter. I live in Boston, so I supplement with D in the winter.

      My approach is still similar to the QS talk, with small tweaks, based on my biomarkers. For ex., I noticed a strong correlation with B-cryptoxanthin with my rinsing liver enzyme levels. So I cut back on the butternut squash (and made some other small changes), and my liver enxymes have tranded closer to 30, as opposed to being in the mid 40s…

      In terms of your parents, while more veggies will almost always be good, they don’t have to ve vegan to gain health benefits. Ha, I’d see if you can get their blood tested, too, to see where diet can further help! Diet is only 1 side of the euqation-everyone should have exercise in their life, including strength training, cardio, stretching. So I’d make sure they’re covering those bases…


  2. Pingback: Resting Heart Rate: Year-Over-Year Update – Michael Lustgarten

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