It is quite normal for endurance athletes to have a lower resting heart rate than others. A low heart rate in athletes is actually a sign of an efficient and working heart. However, in others, if the heart rate becomes too slow, then a low heart rate could also signify that there are underlying health complications that you need to address.
Heart rate is measured in beats per minute or bpm. A normal resting heart rate in adults is anywhere between 60 and 80 beats per minute and it is best measured when you are either lying down or while you are sitting. You should be in a calm state. For athletes, the resting heart rate can even be as low as 30 to 40 bpm. However, if you are a non-athlete, then what does a resting heart rate of 50 bpm indicate? Let’s take a look.
What Does a Low Resting Heart Rate Indicate in Non-Athletes?
For an adult, the normal or healthy resting heart rate is considered to be between 60 and 100 beats per minute (bpm). A lower resting heart rate is considered to be healthy and a good indication of your health. It means that your heart is not working overtime trying to pump blood throughout your body. A low resting heart rate in non-athletes indicates that you are in good cardiovascular health.
On the other hand, a very rapid or fast resting heart rate is an indication that you are at an increased risk of developing blood clots, suffering heart failure, and other related problems.
However, if a low heart rate gets too low, then also some health risks can develop. A condition known as bradycardia is marked by very low resting heart rate. In fact, in non-athletes, a resting heart rate of 50 is actually a cause of concern and can indicate that you are suffering from bradycardia. Bradycardia is a condition where your resting heart rate is lower than 60 bpm. For some people, the threshold can also be less than 50 bpm, depending on your lifestyle. However, 50bpm is usually considered to be the borderline for diagnosing bradycardia.
Long-distance runners and other endurance athletes who are in top cardiovascular fitness usually have a resting heart rate that is lower than 60 bpm.
If you are not an athlete and you are neither training for any sports or swimming dozens of laps around the pool every day, then you should contact your doctor if you notice that your resting heart rate is 50.
What are the Risks Associated with Low Heart Rate?
There are many health risks associated with a low resting heart rate of 50 bpm. One of the major concerns linked with bradycardia is of a condition known as syncope.
Syncope is another term for fainting or the loss of consciousness. Syncope typically happens because of an insufficient supply of blood in the brain. This happens because a low heart rate can compromise the circulation of blood within your body. Due to the low heart rate, your heart is not able to pump blood fast enough to maintain a healthy flow of blood to your brain and to the rest of your body. Fainting, therefore, is one of the major risks of having a low heart rate. Fainting can also lead to bone fractures is you have a dangerous fall.
Fainting spells are generally one of the biggest signs of bradycardia. This is also taken to be the first indication that your resting heart rate is slowing down. Therefore, in order to make up for a heart that is beating slowly, the heart muscles try to pump harder for meeting the body’s demand for oxygenated blood. This can also cause hypertension or high blood pressure, eventually even leading to heart failure over a period of time if the heart muscles have to continue to work overtime for pumping blood.
In some people, a low heart rate can also be associated with low blood pressure, a condition referred to as hypotension. Low blood pressure is also a known cause of syncope.
However, the positive thing here is that bradycardia does not increase your risk of heart disease, which is a precursor to a heart attack.
A study conducted by the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that a low heart rate by itself is not a foolproof indication that heart disease is inevitable in the future. In fact, for a majority of people in their 40s or 50s, a low resting heart rate is considered to be quite good, especially if they have no symptoms of bradycardia.
How to Treat a Low Resting Heart Rate?
If you have a low resting heart rate or bradycardia, but you have not experienced any of the symptoms, then it is likely that you do not require any treatment. However, if you begin experiencing fainting or even start to feel lightheaded, or start experiencing chest pain, then you should immediately seek medical attention. In order to determine if you require any treatment, your doctor will first determine the underlying reason behind your low heart rate.
Many times, bradycardia is caused by underlying problems with the sinoatrial (SA) node. The SA node can be referred to as being the heart’s natural pacemaker. This is a collection of cells lying in the upper part of the heart that is responsible for sending out electrical signals that help manage and control the beating rate of your heart.
If there is any damage to the SA node or if it stops functioning properly, then your heart rate will either speed up, slow down or in some cases even become inconsistent.
An abnormal heart rate, be it slow, fast, or inconsistent, is known as an arrhythmia. If your heart rate is too abnormal, then your doctor may consider the option of putting in a pacemaker, which is a small device that gets implanted into your chest. Whenever the pacemaker detects an arrhythmia, it immediately sends an electrical signal to the heart to again restore a healthy heart rate.
Thyroid disease is known to be another common cause of bradycardia. If you have a low thyroid function, a condition known as hypothyroidism, then it can also lead to numerous health problems, such as a low heart rate. If you control your thyroid disease with lifestyle changes and medication, it will help take care of bradycardia.
In some cases, a low resting heart rate could also be due to a side effect of certain medications. These include digoxin, a commonly used drug for treating heart failure. Beta blockers, a class of drugs used for treating high blood pressure or tachycardia (having an abnormally fast heart rate), can also cause your heart rate to slow down. Bradycardia is a problem for people who are taking medications for slowing down their heart rate. Further research is still required to understand the exact association between the use of these medications and the heart rate. Sometimes, a simple adjustment to the medication dosage is enough to reset your heart rate again.
Generally, a low resting heart rate of 50 if you are a non-athlete is not a sign to worry over. It is considered to be a sign of good health. However, if you are experiencing symptoms of bradycardia, then a low heart rate could be a sign of an underlying heart condition. If you are in otherwise good health, then a resting heart rate of 50 is nothing to worry about. However, if you want to be sure, then you can always consult a doctor who can help you figure out why your heart is beating slowly and if you need any treatment.