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5 Heart Rate Myths Debunked

It's normal to wonder if your heart is ticking just right. Sometimes you may think it beats too slowly. Or you might worry it's racing too fast. The truth is, there's a lot you've heard about your pulse that's flat out wrong. It's time to set the record straight.

1. Myth: A normal heart rate is 60-100 beats per minute.

That's the old standard. Many doctors think it should be lower. About 50-70 beats per minute is ideal, says Suzanne Steinbaum, MD, director of women's heart health at Lenox Hill Hospital.

Recent studies suggest a heart rate higher than 76 beats per minute when you're resting may be linked to a higher risk of heart attack.

The better shape you're in, the slower your heart rate will be when you're not moving around. "It might be OK to have a resting heart rate of 80, but it doesn't mean you're healthy," Steinbaum says.

2. Myth: An erratic heart rate means I'm having a heart attack.

When your heart beats in an irregular pattern, you're having what's called palpitations. You may feel as if it skipped a beat or speeds up. Or it may seem like a brief flutter or a pounding in your chest.

"Most of the time these sensations are not life-threatening," says Apoor Patel, MD, a cardiologist at North Shore-LIJ Medical PC in Manhasset, N.Y.

Many things can cause palpitations, like:

Alcohol
Caffeine
Exercise
Stress
Dehydration
Medication
Fever
Thyroid disorders
Smoking
Dietary supplements like goldenseal, oleander, motherwort, or ephedra

"Having an irregular heartbeat doesn't mean you're having a heart attack," Steinbaum says. But if it's a new symptom, or if you have chest pains or problems breathing, call your doctor.

3. Myth: If my pulse is fast, it always means I'm stressed out.

Stress is just one thing that can raise your pulse. Your heart rate may also speed up when you exercise, get excited, or feel anxious or sad.

When you stand up, your pulse may go up for 15 to 20 seconds before it goes back to normal. Even the weather, like high temperatures or humidity, can raise it.

If you take thyroid medication, a fast pulse may be a sign you're taking too much. Talk to your doctor.

4. Myth: If my heart rate is normal, my blood pressure is fine.

Sometimes your heart rate and your blood pressure go hand in hand. For example, when you exercise, or get angry or scared, they both go up.

But they're not always linked. If your heart rate is normal, your blood pressure may not be. It could be too high or too low, and you may not realize it.

Even if your heart rate seems fine, get your blood pressure checked regularly.

5. Myth: If my heart rate is slow, it means I have a weak heart.

Not necessarily. A slow heart rate can be a sign that you're healthy and fit. An athlete's heart muscle is in better shape, so it doesn't have to work as hard to keep up a steady beat.

In general, Patel says, slow rates are only a problem if you also pass out, feel dizzy, are short of breath, or have chest pain. See your doctor if you have any of those symptoms.

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