I haven’t thought much about my heart rate in a while, mostly because I simply don’t need something new to worry about. But every now and then I like to feel around for a pulse, and try to measure out my resting heart rate. Sometimes, it seems low — less than 60 beats per minute. So, what, am I dying?
Nah. A low resting heart rate can mean a number of things. It might even mean you’re in really good shape, as athletes and particularly fit people often have a lower-than-average heart rate. By and large, it’s much healthier to have a lower resting heart rate than a high one, and puts you at a lessened risk of cardiac events.
For some people, having a low resting heart rate is just normal. Certain medications like beta-blockers can lower heart rate, as well. If you feel perfectly fine, it’s likely nothing to worry about. Typically, a low resting heart rate, medically known as bradycardia, only becomes an issue when it results in your brain and organs not getting enough oxygen from your blood. When this happens, though, there are a number of telling symptoms: Fainting, dizziness, lightheadedness, chest pains, shortness of breath and becoming unusually fatigued following exercise are indicators that something might be wrong, regardless of whether you’ve identified your heart rate as being lower than normal or not.
According to the Mayo Clinic, fainting, difficulty breathing and chest pain are symptoms that warrant emergency care. For the milder symptoms, you may still want to get in touch with your doctor so they can determine the urgency of the situation.
With a low resting heart rate, what’s most important is what’s normal for you. It can be hard to know precisely what that means without regularly monitoring your own heart rate, which itself can fluctuate with exercise, caffeine and anxiety, but the American Heart Association recommends checking your pulse for 60 seconds in the morning before getting out of bed for the most accurate reading. Meanwhile, regular check-ups with your doctor can also help you figure out what’s normal for you.
Maybe your resting heart rate is low because you’re just in such good shape. But if the room is spinning while you read this, maybe you should call a doctor.