Alex Shaw

How Likely Is a Heart Attack? The Heart Rate Recovery Test

Listen to your heart: Understanding the heart rate recovery test and how it can predict your risk of heart disease.

The Heart Rate Recovery Test, Longevity

The year is 138 AD. Hadrian, the Emperor of Rome, stood atop marble steps leading to his palace, admiring his Kingdom with a slight smile on his face. The middle-aged Emperor was enigmatic, with a reputation for great generosity but intense cruelty, curiosity and ambition. Hadrian had rebuilt the Pantheon in Athens, alongside the vast Temple of Venus and Rome and strengthened the Empire’s connections to its Greek heritage.

Admiring the Kingdom, the Emperor’s smile distorted slightly. A pain shot up his left arm and with his right he clutched his chest. Within moments, his body had gone numb and he fell to the steps. Dead, at 62, from a heart attack.

Today, heart health issues are a leading cause of death worldwide. In the United States, every 1 in 5 deaths is caused by heart disease. More than four of five causes of cardiovascular death are from heart attacks.

While there are certain risk factors that cannot be changed, such as age and family history, there are many lifestyle choices that can be made to reduce the risk of a heart attack. Understanding one’s risk factors and taking steps to modify them can make a significant impact on overall heart health.

In this article, we introduce a simple, yet effective, method to measure one’s risk of a heart attack. It is based around heart rate recovery. We then explore the risk factors for heart attacks and discuss strategies for reducing this risk, including lifestyle changes and medical interventions.

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, occurs when the blood supply to the heart muscle is blocked or reduced, causing damage to the heart tissue. This is usually due to a buildup of cholesterol and other substances in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. The reduction in blood flow can lead to a lack of oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle, which can cause the muscle cells to die.

Aged Women,Heart Attack,Longevity

Symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain, shortness of breath, and nausea. Seek medical attention immediately if experiencing these symptoms. Risk factors include high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, diabetes, and a family history of heart disease. Lifestyle changes such as exercise and healthy eating can help reduce risk. Treatment options include medication, angioplasty, bypass surgery, and rehabilitation programs.

Simple heart rate recovery test

There is a one-minute exercise-based test to measure your risk of a heart attack. It is made of three components:

1. Resting heart rate

2. Peak heart rate

3. Recovery heart rate

First, you need to measure your resting heart rate (RHR) to understand what pulse you have in a relaxed state. We have provided instructions on how to do this in the next section, How to Measure Heart Rate.

Next, you should increase your heart rate to around 70 to 80% of your maximum heart rate (MHR) by doing one minute of high-intensity, all-body exercise. After one minute of exercise, note down your heart rate.

Then, you rest one more minute and measure your heart rate at the end of this resting period. This is called your recovery pulse. Subtract this number from the peak pulse to measure how fast your heart recovers after strenuous exercise. Stated otherwise:

Step 1: Measure RHR

Step 2: Exercise as intensively as you can for one minute. Measure PHR

Step 3: Rest for one minute. Measure HR

Step 4: Subtract your HR result from your PHR result

Now, compare this number to the following basic guidelines on heart attack risk:

Less than 12: High Risk

13 to 20: Moderate Risk

21 to 40: Low Risk

Heart Rate Recovery Test Result and Heart Attack Risk, stats

To help you conduct this, we created a guide below:

How to measure heart rate


Measuring your resting heart rate is simple and can be done anywhere, using only your heart and a hand.

To get an accurate reading, follow these steps:

1. Find a comfortable, quiet place to sit or lie down.

2. Place your index and middle finger on the inside of your wrist, below the thumb, or on the side of your neck under your chin.

3. Count the number of beats you feel in a 60-second interval.

4. Alternatively, you can count for 10 seconds and multiply the sum by six.

When measuring your resting heart rate (RHR) it is best to measure in the morning, before you get out of bed, to avoid any artificial influences on the rhythm.

Most experts consider a healthy heart rate to be between 60 and 90 beats per minute (BPM), while the American Heart Association and British Heart Foundation define the upper limit as 100 BPM.

To measure your peak heart rate, you first need to understand your maximum heart rate (MHR). Maximum heart rate refers to the highest number of beats per minute that your heart can reach during strenuous physical activity. In other words, it is the highest output one’s body can produce during physical activity. Your peak heart rate, and therefore the baseline you should target when measuring your heart rate recovery, is a fraction of this MHR.

There are several methods to measure your maximum heart rate. If you do not have access to a heart rate monitor, you can estimate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. For example, if you are 30 years old, your estimated maximum heart rate would be 190 beats per minute.

Why Recovery?

You may be wondering why this test, in particular, is effective at determining the approximate risk of heart attack. The answer has to do with your nervous system. Specifically, your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

– the sympathetic nervous system encourages alertness and strength

– the parasympathetic nervous system helps us rest and recover

sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems

When you exercise, for example in your one-minute exercise, or undergo other physical or physiological stress your sympathetic nervous system is triggered. Contrastingly, your parasympathetic nervous system is triggered during your rest period, and has a countering effect to the sympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system works in the background to keep your heart rate at its resting rate, and generally maintain relaxation in your physiological processes.

So, the above measurement is, in fact, a measurement of the strength of your parasympathetic nervous system. A strong parasympathetic nervous system will manifest in fastest recovery, alongside greater relaxation, deeper sleep and better overall heart health.

How to improve heart health and the parasympathetic nervous system

Recovery is central to the parasympathetic nervous system. As established, the system is hard at work to re-stabilize your philosophy after the intensity of the sympathetic system. Therefore, it is crucial to rest between exercises or sets of exercises. Although it appears counter-intuitive, it is actually in these resting periods that the parasympathetic nervous system is becoming stronger. This is part of the reason why High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is fantastic for heart health.

Otherwise, to maintain a healthy heart, follow these recommendations:

1. Exercise regularly for at least 30 minutes most days of the week to lower your resting heart rate and improve cardiovascular health.

2. Eat a healthy diet low in processed foods and high in whole, nutrient-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.

3. Quit smoking to improve your cardiovascular health and lower your resting heart rate.

4. Limit alcohol consumption to moderate levels.

5. Maintain a healthy weight through healthy eating and physical activity.

6. Manage stress effectively with relaxation techniques or physical activity.

7. Get 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night to maintain a healthy resting heart rate.

8. Reduce caffeine consumption, especially before sleep, as it can raise your resting heart rate.

9. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day.

10. Keep your blood pressure in check: high blood pressure can damage arteries and increase the risk of heart disease.

11. Seek medical attention if you have a persistently high resting heart rate, which may be a sign of an underlying health condition. Your healthcare provider can determine the cause and provide appropriate treatment.

Interesting facts

  • Heart attacks are most frequent between 6 AM and 12:00 PM on Mondays, with a 20% increase in risk compared to other days of the week, possibly due to stress and anxiety associated with returning to work after the weekend.

  • Laughing too hard can cause a heart attack by increasing heart rate and blood pressure, which can trigger an attack in people with underlying heart disease.

  • People with a greater risk of heart disease tend to have higher-pitched voices, as higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol can affect vocal cords, causing them to vibrate at a higher frequency. So, next time you hear a recording of your voice, it might be worth paying attention to the pitch!

Let’s summarise

In conclusion, a heart rate recovery test is an excellent method to determine your risk of a heart attack. The test focuses on the strength of the parasympathetic nervous system, which can be improved through recovery techniques such as meditation, breathing exercises, and yoga. By incorporating these techniques into your daily routine, you can improve your heart health and reduce the risk of heart attacks.

Hungry for knowledge? Here is more!

In this video, Dr. Eric Berg, a successful nutritionist specializing in heart health, ketosis and intermittent fasting outlines steps to improve heart health and avoid a heart attack. Watch this to understand habits you can implement to live a long, heart-healthy and happy life.

Healthypedia FAQ

Heart rate recovery is the rate at which a person's heart rate decreases after exercise, and is used as an indicator of cardiovascular health.

To measure heart rate recovery, a person's heart rate is monitored immediately after exercise, and then again one to two minutes later. The difference between the two heart rates is the heart rate recovery.

It's important to focus on improving cardiovascular fitness through regular exercise. This can include both aerobic and strength training exercises, as well as adopting healthy lifestyle habits such as maintaining a balanced diet, managing stress levels, and getting enough sleep.

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