These three simple tests with a heart monitor could warn you of potential cardiac issues.
Most people who exercise are familiar with heart-rate monitoring but are unaware this data may be helpful in assessing cardiac risk, something everyone should be aware of when you consider rates of heart attacks in athletes are similar to those in sedentary individuals.
Three key heart rate measurements are important to know because they represent some of the most accurate evaluations for active and inactive people alike. These simple autonomic markers for cardiac stress — and mortality — are resting heart rate, heart-rate recovery and heart-rate variability.
From a practical standpoint, most users will not perform standard exercise stress tests in a laboratory, but simple self-assessments in a best-case scenario may help evaluate low, moderate and high risk for cardiac stress. Some still use the pulse test to estimate their heart rate, while others use the more-accurate and traditional chest strap monitors or other tracking devices. Multiple evaluations, perhaps a minimum of three, can be used to estimate risk. Ongoing evaluations can help assess improvement.
Regardless of the means of collection, data from these rates could potentially save your life.
Resting Heart Rate
Resting heart rate is the most easily obtained but it also is less precise in estimation of cardiac and mortality risk. However, the following are numbers to consider:
Low risk — resting HR less than 70 bpm.
Moderate risk — resting HR between 70 and 75.
High risk — above 75. I recommend seeing a health practitioner if your resting rate is this high.
Heart Rate Recovery
Heart rate recovery is a measure of how quickly your heart rate normalizes following exertion. My preference is to measure heart data from an individual during exercise (after warming up and before the onset of a cool down), attaining an adequate training heart rate or MAF heart rate, then having the subject stop and immediately obtain the rate. Then again take the rate after one measured minute of inactivity while standing or maintaining other exercise positions. HRR is the difference between the two numbers.
Using this HRR the following categories offer an estimated risk:
Low risk — Decrease of over 30 bpm.*
Moderate risk — Decrease of 25 to 30.
High risk — Decrease of less than 25. I recommend seeing a health practitioner.
* A decrease of more than 30 beats is not necessarily better. In chronically overtrained athletes we sometimes see the extreme of autonomic imbalance where HRR decreases more than ~35 bpm, and resting HR is excessively low.
Heart Rate Variability
After the workout, an important first stage of recovery takes place in the cardiovascular system. This test can be performed following a hard workout while wearing a heart monitor or using some other accurate device. While standing still, the heart rate should be reduced by more than 12 beats in one minute.
If your heart rate is not reduced by 12 beats per minute, it may indicate improper recovery from the exertion, stressing the heart and other systems. This could suggest a cardiac risk, and your doctor should be notified.