Are You Worried About Your Heart Rate and Blood Pressure? I Am

Last year I began to transition this little blog out of being all about posture to being about posture, fitness, health and wellbeing. For my seven regular readers, fret not. I’m taking nothing away and have no plans to stop talking about posture, I’m simply continuing to expand into other health areas. In order to do this, I’m going to be trying out some new things, and will delve further into that in the near future.

Meantime, following up my little story about using my Fitbit to find proof I need to get back to work Mondays just to get some rest…

When I was in my 20s, my doctor noted I had slightly elevated blood pressure. He also told me not to worry about it because I also have a fairly low resting heart rate, so it has to push a little harder each time to get the same volume of blood flow.

Fast forward 30 years. On the occasions I’ve checked my resting heart rate, the number always seemed to be in the low 60s. Slow, strong, healthy. Thing is, I’ve always thought there was a problem with the way we take blood pressure and heartrate; in a single 30 second test window. The numbers were always snapshots from that limited time frame, and that time frame comes with at least two problems.

1. What were the input conditions?

What happened just before the doctor checked your heartrate and BP? Were you rushing into the office, hurried, harried and late? Were you sitting calmly for 5 – 10 minutes? Were you frustrated, upset, stressed, because the doctor was running 2 hours late?

Aside: Doctors, your time is NOT more valuable than mine. Nor is it more valuable than a bricklayer’s, a factory worker’s, a stay at home mom’s, or a kindergartener’s. We’re all given a certain number of minutes on this planet, and each of our moments is as valuable to us as yours are to you. So be on fricking time. And if you don’t like hearing that, too bad. I learned it from my (specialist doctor) father, who learned it from his (surgeon) father.

Having said that, my doctor is awesome with this, never more than 5 minutes off the scheduled time.

2. Whenever I was having my BP and heartrate checked, I was intensely aware that it was happening.

That awareness, combined with my ability to control my breathing and consciously slow my heartrate made a true reading impossible. In other words, the observer’s paradox applied to heartrate monitoring.

Yes, Andrew, but what about the Fitbit story?

Fortunately, along the way I got some data independent of the observer (i.e. me). For a couple of years I wore a heartrate monitor to yoga. Laying quietly, relaxing before class, the monitor would give a resting number around 60 and the time frame was long enough for me to forget about the tracking, thus removing the observer’s paradox.

Yes, Andrew, but what about the Fitbit story?

Okay, so then Mrs. Andrew got me the Fitbit, and it shows my heartrate measured in real time. When I’m sitting quietly in a relaxed environment it generally gives me readings between 59 and 65. Since it’s now on me 24/7, I lose my awareness of it, and once again the observer’s paradox is gone.

Well, recently my new doctor noted that I have slightly elevate blood pressure and a low heart rate. Worried about the elevated Systolic (top) number, she ordered a longer test, which showed three interesting things.

1. Input conditions DO matter.

When I sat down for the test my heartrate was 75. I’d been rushing to get to the appointment on time, and had no time to sit and relax to let the number fall back to resting.

Aside: patients, you’re not the only one who’s going to see the doctor today. They have a schedule to keep and swore an oath to help you. If you’re late, you back up their office and screw up the patients behind you. So be on fricking time.

2. It stabilized at 59 for most of the test.

I like my Fitbit, but there seems to be a problem with the resting heart rate algorithm. It gives my resting rate anywhere between 63 and 66 where the doctor’s equipment gave 59. Which am I to trust, my watch, or my doctor’s purpose designed, very expensive diagnostic equipment? Have I ever mentioned my father is a doctor (and I’m an engineer, oddly enough in medical device design)? Yeah, Imma trust the doctor’s purpose-designed diagnostic equipment over my smartwatch.

3. That resting heart rate of approximately 60 has been remarkably stable for my entire adult life.

Huh. It’s almost as if incorporating regular, vigorous exercise into your life’s routines leads to healthy, persistent changes.

So now, as with my thought’s on my sedentary work life, my right opinion about my heartrate has (with data and the application of reason) been converted the knowledge. I now know I have a pretty darned healthy heart, and a fairly low resting heart rate.

Unfortunately, I’m starting to develop the knowledge that I’ve got mild systolic hypertension. But more on that later.