Should I be concerned about my HR?

Hey all.

48yo M here.  This year i have dropped 53lbs and built to 15k+ yds/wk.  Last week while donating at red cross the nurse taking my vitals looked at me while taking my pulse and said "46."  I said "no way." and checked my watch and...  sure enough.  Since then I've been looking and resting hr is generally 48-52 (58 as I'm typing).  I know that a slower heartbeat is, generally speaking, a good thing and a result of activity but being in the 40's so often is a little disconcerting.  Before I started my no booze swim regimen in January my standing hr was like 68.-72, so the drop is significant.

My hr for swims seems to be okay.  my distance/stroke sets get me to 130-135 and sprint sets will get it to 145, and I'm under 80 after like 100-120 seconds of rest.  And I have no other symptoms of concern.  My diet is balanced and junk/treats are minimal.  BP is a seady 120/80.

But heart disease in my family is rampant and, like I said, 46 is a scary number to me.

I called the doc and made an appt for next week to be sure.  In the meantime, should I be backing off just in case?

Thanks for any advice.

  • It is not uncommon for people in really good condition to have a heart rate in the 40s. It isn’t fortunately, not uncommon to find doctors who are not familiar with very well trained athletes and overreact. If you’re concerned I absolutely recommend seeing a good cardiologist, but make sure they have worked with very well conditioned people. My primary care physician looked at my EKG and was significantly worried and referred  me to a very knowledgeable cardiologist who explained that I had a fine heart that’s just an unusual one. 

  • Based on person experience it would be a good idea to check in with a doctor to be sure.   I got to that same range and week over week my avg HR kept getting lower.  I started getting dizzy easily and even fainted a couple of time. 

    it turned out I have an electrical problem with my heart which we fixed with a pacemaker. I’m back to swimming and did the escape from Alcatraz swim here in San Francisco a few months later.  

  • From what you have said here, you have no reason to back off "just in case." Your HR is low but not crazy low; it rises to meet demand; and it recovers quickly after the demand ends. Consult your doctor if you are unsure, and if they propose a cardiology workup and your health plan covers it, do it. You will get some interesting data if nothing else.

    Lots of trained athletes have resting HRs in the 40s or 50s. Problems to look out for (that you have not described here) include resting HR dropping even though your training is the same as ever; HR that will not rise to meet demand; HR that rises without demand, or that is erratic; unexplained decrease in your perception of your own aerobic capacity; fainting while you are just sitting around, or when you are doing light activity like walking around a store or cooking dinner.

    NB: I am not a doctor. I am, like XGBKB, a swimmer with a pacemaker. For anyone curious about electrical cardiac issues in athletes, I highly recommend The Haywire Heart, by Case, Mandrola, and Zinn. Just don't let the book or Dr. Google freak you out unnecessarily.

  • There are many misconceptions about heart rates in athletes. For many elite athletes, max heart rate is a focus, and when I’ve trained Olympian track athletes particularly they are frustrated that during aquatic cross training, their HR is significantly lower causing them to believe they aren’t getting a good workout. The job of the heart is to pump blood. It has two mechanisms to do that during exercise: increasing heart rate and increasing stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped during each contraction.) Our heart rates have a biological range which decreases its max with age. We typically start our lives with ± 220 MHR, but by age 70 or so, that is significantly lower as a HRmax. A typical stroke volume is around 40 cc/beat, so with a typical HR of 60, about 2400 ml/min cardiac output. With max exercise training, that stroke volume is able to nearly double, and from a cardiac efficiency standpoint, increasing stroke volume is much more efficient than increasing heart rate. Aquatic immersion by itself increases stroke volume by about 30%, so there is an automatic increase in cardiac output even with sedentary immersion, and aquatic immersed exercise typically produces a HR about 12-15% lower than land-based exercise of similar intensity.

    So a resting HR of 45 might be a concern in an emergency room, but is a frequent point of pride in an elite athlete. The brain, which is very sensitive to reduced cardiac output is still getting sufficient blood flow to function perfectly when one’s HR is low but stroke volume is high and total cardiac output is normal. The body is amazing well calibrated to maintain healthy cerebral blood flow. Simple aquatic immersion, and immersed exercise on a treadmill produces a 10-15% increase in cerebral blood flow, so as aquatic exercisers, we are doing our brains a real favor by increasing cerebral blood flow and cerebral oxygen supply!!

    Bruce E. Becker, MD, MS

  • Since I had no ohter alarming symptoms I did not back off...  In fact I did my first two master's workouts.  went to doc today.  She seemed unconcerned.  I'm keeping a log of hr a few times a day and monitoring BP first and last of the day.  I'm going back to red cross for platelet donation on sunday and we will see how the vitals are then.  

    Thanks for the responses.

  • I also have been told this, It seems to be O K .

  • I'm 50 and have a similar resting heart rate after dropping 40lbs and fighting cancer.  I'm proud to have that low a heart rate rest range as it tells me I'm in pretty darn good shape.  I push it in workout as well.  I have 4 different speeds, easy, mod, strong, and max.  I push hard and still listen to my body if I'm too exerted.  I also love the Dead so keep on trucking brother.