Ask the Doctor: ‘My fitness tracker often tells me my heart rate is high, despite sitting at my desk or relaxing with my children — should I be worried?’
All your burning health questions answered by the professionals.
“I’m a working mum with a busy job and three kids. I wear a fitness tracker to ensure I get my daily steps in. This often tells me my heart rate is high despite sitting at my desk or relaxing with my children, should I be worried?”
Answer from Professor Robert Kelly, consultant cardiologist and lifestyle medicine, Beacon Hospital.
Fitness trackers are by no means an exact science. While helpful for tracking steps and movement, medical expertise is needed when it comes to heart health. However, 10,000 people die from heart disease in Ireland each year, so if you are concerned, there are some simple questions to consider.
If your heart rate is reading higher, first ask yourself, how are you feeling? Are you feeling that your heart is racing? Does it feel irregular in rhythm, skipping, jumping? Is it making you short of breath, or are you feeling dizzy? Make a note of the fact that a healthy heart has a bpm of 70-90.
Next, you need to assess your lifestyle and hereditary factors. Are you feeling generally well? Do you smoke, and how much alcohol and coffee do you drink? What’s your diet and water intake like, are you overweight? Are you taking any medication, such as the contraceptive pill or HRT? Do you have an overactive thyroid, or is there a family history of things like atrial fibrillation or high blood pressure?
If you answer yes to some of these questions, it may be worth talking to your doctor, who can refer you to a cardiologist. You may need a heart tracing (ECG) monitor, blood pressure monitor, exercise stress test and ultrasound (echo), plus blood tests to check thyroid and blood count. All of these will help to rule out or identify any underlying issues.
If there are lifestyle issues, then there are simple practical guidelines that can help. As well as eating healthily and reducing alcohol and caffeine intake, exercise is very important. It sounds like you are getting your daily steps in which is great, but do not underestimate the heart health benefits of social exercise, such as walking with friends or team sports. Aim for 150 minutes per week.
Smoking and narcotics are an absolute no for heart health. Sleep and stress cannot be underestimated. It is a fact that sleeping for 6-8 hours each night reduces heart disease, while poor sleep increases heart rate. You mention you’re a mum, so no doubt have lots on your plate every day. Stress is a cause of heart problems and higher heart rates. Trying to do everything can lead to exhaustion and burnout.
A sudden lifestyle overhaul is not practical nor realistic. What small step can you do right now to help your heart and self-care? What is stopping you from making changes?
If you have any concerns about your heart health, reach out to your doctor or even share your stresses with your family/partner and start a conversation.
Have a question for the professionals you’d like answered? Get in touch with [email protected] with the subject headline ‘Ask The Doctor’.