Image Credit: Kristina DeMuth

The Best Food for Slowing Your Resting Heart Rate

Monitoring resting heart rate has strong advantages. Taking your pulse is cheap, takes little time, is understandable to people, and is something everyone can do at home to measure their progress to become an active participant in their own health management. “The accumulated weight of evidence linking elevated [resting] heart rate to cardiovascular and all-cause mortality”—that is, to a shortened lifespan—“even in apparently healthy individuals, makes a strong case for it to be considered in the assessment of cardiovascular risk.” 

Every ten-beat-per-minute increase is associated with a 10 to 20 percent increase in the risk of premature death. “There seems to be a continuous increase in risk with increasing heart rate,” at least for values above a beat a second. So, we can simply look at our watch or the timer on our smartphone, and, if our heart is beating faster than the seconds going by, especially when we’re sitting quietly, then we have to do something about it. This is particularly important when we start getting up to around 80 or 90 beats per minute. As I discuss in my video Slow Your Beating Heart: Beans vs. Exercise, men with no apparent evidence of heart disease who have a pulse of 90 may have five times higher risk of sudden cardiac death compared to those in the safety zone. To put it bluntly, their first symptom is their last. Indeed, resting heart rates around 90 beats per minute increase heart disease risk at a level similar to smoking.

If you ask most doctors, though, 90 is considered normal: The accepted limits of heart rate have long been set at 60 to 100 beats per minute. Where did that range come from? It was adopted as a matter of convenience simply based on the scale of the squares on EKG paper. It was an historical accident like the QWERTY keyboard that just became the norm. A heart rate of 60 to 100 doesn’t even represent the bell curve.

A group of cardiologists measured the heart rate of 500 people and concluded that 45 to 95 beats per minute was a better definition of normal, rounding to 50 to 90, which a survey of leading cardiologists concurred with. Now, we know that normal doesn’t necessarily mean optimal, but doctors shouldn’t be telling people with heart rates in the 50s that their heart rate is too low. In fact, these people may be right where they should be.

Certainly, a “heart rate higher than 80 beats per minute should ring an alarm bell,” but what can we do about it? Exercise is one obvious possibility. Ironically, we make our heart go faster so, the rest of the time, it beats slower.

“The public health benefits of physical exercise, especially for [heart] protection, are widely accepted.…Among the many biological mechanisms proposed to account for this risk-reducing effect is autonomic nervous system regulation of the heart”—that is, our brain’s ability to slow down the resting beat of our heart. If you put people through a 12-week aerobic conditioning program of cycling, StairMaster, and running on a treadmill, their resting heart rate can drop from around 69 to about 66—about a three-beat-per-minute drop. Of course, they have to keep it up. Stop exercising and resting heart rate goes right back up.

Exercise is only one way to drop our heart rate, though. The way to our heart may also be through our stomach. What if instead of three months of exercise, we did three months of beans, like a cup a day of beans, chickpeas, or lentils? The first randomized controlled trial of beans for the treatment of diabetes showed they did indeed successfully improve blood sugar control, dropping subjects’ average A1C level from 7.4 to 6.9. This study was “also the first to assess the effect of bean consumption on heart rate and indeed one of the few to determine the effect [on heart rate] of any dietary intervention.” This is particularly important in diabetics, since having a higher resting heart rate not only increases their risk of death as it does for everybody, but it also appears to predict greater risk of diabetic complications, such as damage to the nerves and eyes.

So, how did beans do in the study? They produced a 3.4 beat drop in heart rate—just as much as the 250 hours on a treadmill. We’re not sure why beans are as powerful as exercise in bringing down one’s resting heart rate. “In addition to the potential direct beneficial effects of vegetable protein and fiber”—all the good stuff in legumes—“there is also the potential displacement value of vegetable protein foods in reducing animal protein foods, which are higher in saturated fat and cholesterol.”

Regardless, we should consider eating pulses for our pulse.


What is that about a shortened lifespan? See my Finger on the Pulse of Longevity video.

Having “normal” risk factor values in a society where it’s normal to drop dead of preventable diseases like heart disease is not necessarily a good thing. Learn more with:

For more on the musical fruit, see:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Discuss

Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


51 responses to “The Best Food for Slowing Your Resting Heart Rate

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        1. (@)Blair: Because my cardiologist told me that given the degree of scaring my heart suffered after my heart attack seven years ago, I need to take a beta-blocker to reduce the load on my heart and thus the likelihood of a future arrhythmia (as Jon G noted below.) While I’ve been able to use lifestyle changes to go off four of the six meds I was on immediately after my heart attack, I need to continue with my low-dose aspirin and the low-dose beta-blocker.

          I’m an avid and successful whole-food vegan but there is a place for appropriate medications. Today marks the fifth anniversary that I (and my wife given I do our cooking) have eaten and thrived on a whole-food, salt-oil-sugar free vegan diet, I had to struggle to find a vegan-cardiologist and a vegan-primary care physician, but I’m glad that I did.

          1. Ralph Rhineau, so glad to hear you and your family are doing well! We have a similar story, though I have been wfpb for a while longer than my husband. We are down to 3 meds apiece too, and a low dose beta blocker is part of my regime. We enjoy the food, the exercise, meditation, all of it! While I haven’t had the good fortune to find a vegan cardiologist or family physician, I think our doctors at least appreciate our efforts and enthusiasm. (my bp and cholesterol are still too high )
            I won’t apologize for taking the medications prescribed….I am thankful for the good care I receive.

            1. Barb……..Bravo! You and Ralph have described our mutual situations very well. It is not always as simple as eating the right foods. Life can be much more complicated than that.

              1. That’s for sure Lida! And plus, even for those folks who don’t have to contend with health complications, often there is some diet tweeking to get their wfpb diet at just the right combinations for them.

                By the way, re the resting heart rate… I have stopped the beta blocker for weeks or months at a time before and my resting heart rate raises to approx. 56 – 60. With the beta blocker, it 47 to about 50. Not sure if that is typical or not.

  1. And what about those of us who can’t digest beans? I don’t mean that beans give me gas. I mean that I have IBS, and they give me pain. Along with tree nuts, fruits, and alliums.

      1. B’Healthy, I do take Beano when I eat beans, and while it reduces my reaction, enabling me to eat maybe 1/4 cup of beans every few days, eating beans every day is simply not possible. Hadn’t heard of also taking Betaine, will try that. Thanks for the suggestion!

      2. Following the Low FODMAPS diet has made a world of difference. For instance, after several years of not being able to tolerate wheat at all, I can now enjoy a modest amount of sourdough bread every few days.

    1. jacqueg, I have a friend who suffers from IBS and can’t eat beans, chick-peas or split peas. He can eat red lentils, though (the kind that don’t have a brown or dark-green outer ‘shell’ on them). Have you tried other legumes to see if there’s one or more you can tolerate?

  2. You’re so right! My pulse has been as low as 45, and I’m 62! It’s regularly about 50. When I was in my 20s, it tended to be around 64. I have beans every day, and though I exercise a lot, I don’t get out of breath.

    1. Many years ago I was on a cruise ship vacationing with friends. I ate something for breakfast which gave me heartburn, which I never had before, and because I was 40 years old at the time I thought I might be having some type of cardiac episode. Anyway, I went to the ship’s doctor and they put me on an IV and gave me an EKG. As I stated, it turned out to be just heartburn. While they had the IV in me, they gave me adrenaline without even telling me. Within a few minutes I felt amped up and restless. I said, “Did you give me adrenaline?” The doctor said, “Yes, your heart rate is only 52.” I told him that it is always like that because I am athletic and only weighed 140lbs at the time. The doctor simply said, “Oh…” I spent the next 4 hours with my extremities trembling.

  3. This is very interesting. I’m 64 & trying to fight high blood pressure along with afib. I’ve been vegan for years & my C-reactive protein is low. My symptoms are baffling cardiologists because I don’t fit the norm. I don’t want their medicines which cause so many side effects. I’m trying to go holistic with olive leaf extract & daily hibiscus/hawthorn tea. I’ll add beans to my meals & see what happens.
    My normal resting heart rate can be in the high 70’s to high 80’s. My family doc feels this is all stress related. I’ll be seeking acupuncture soon & additional supplements. Thank you for all your great articles!

    1. Piper, maybe you aren’t getting enough magnesium in your diet? Beans are high in magnesium, and that may be one reason they work. Not sure how anyone can be a healthy vegan w/o eating beans.

    2. Thank you for your truthful filtering and summerizing of recent research. I am trying to stay on the lifestyle plan but I am diabetic, type 2, and my daily readings go up when I eat this way. Please advise, and thank you again!

      1. ‘If you are living with insulin resistance, you will likely see a spike in blood glucose after eating carbohydrate-rich foods because your muscles and liver are suffering from lipid overload. For best results, decrease your fat intake (to between 10-15% of calories) and increase your carbohydrate intake from whole, unprocessed foods and watch how your blood glucose responds. ‘
        https://www.masteringdiabetes.org/low-carbohydrate-diets-long-term-effects/

      2. As you transition to a whole food, plant based diet low in processed carbohydrates like sugar and flours, and low in fat, insulin resistance improves and blood glucose levels improve in a high proportion of cases. Working with a diabetes educator who is knowledgable about the data for WFPB eating in type II diabetes could hone in on any issues with this for you and get you on track.

  4. And very high resting heart rate is an emergency.

    Brother in law went to cardiologist with pulse over 100.
    Dr said, “first time I’ve seen this in a LIVING patient”

    Just thought I’d share from my list of what you never want to hear from a Dr (insert random emoji)

    1. Pat, did your bro-in- law have an ECG performed at the time his pulse was so elevated. Mine was 160 and it was flutter atrial fib. Mine was not discovered with heart rate under 100 and I did not feel it. Symptoms are not always felt. I had a direct trip to ER and ended up with cardioversion to put me back into normal range.

    2. I wonder if the doc had ever seen a pulse rate of over 100 in any of his dead patients? It would seem to me that he could only see a pulse rate of any number in LIVING patients.

  5. Resting Heart Rate should be more clearly defined as we are talking about specific numbers. Is it taken while you are laying down in bed before you get up in the morning? Your heart rate will be higher when sitting than lying down and different standing or after meals. It can be used as an indicator of over training for athletes. Another very interesting marker to look at is HRV (Heart Rate Variability). This is something which can be measured with an app on a smart phone.

  6. I always heard resting heart rate was your rate “as soon as you open your eyes in the morning”, if so mine is about 55-60bpm but sitting in a chair mid-day it is more like 75bpm! :(

  7. Hi Piper,

    I’m Piper also! Actually, Piper Mason, Jr. I am 83 and have been on a completely Vegan Diet for almost 9 years, guided by Dr. Greger’s recommendations over the years. I am convinced it has saved my life and I expect many more years to come!

    My resting heart rate varies down to 52 during sleep to about 60 seating around, as measured by my Apple Watch. I brisk walk for an hour EVERLY Day, or if it is raining heavily, I do Stair Stepping in my two-story condo for thirty minutes and burn about 180-200 calories for either exercise.

    I also weigh every food item that goes in my mouth to the nearest gram and record in the application, Diet Controller. This is the best food monitoring app I have found and that allows one to document over 30 nutrients for each food item. In order to get the nutrients beyond those on commercial food labels, I go to the USDA website and search the database for any new food to download the nutrition listing for coping over to a new Diet Controller entry.

    If you regularly consume canned beans, tomatoes, and other canned vegetables, or fermented foods, take a look at all the sodium these food contain! I have switched to preparing all these myself using an Instant Pot without any salt added. You’ll get used to that and even prefer it. This reduced my blood pressure over a range of a low of 117/58 to a high of 128/60, depending on how relaxed I am.

    Hope this is of some use to you.

    1. Yes, I couldn’t post yesterday, but I found the topic heartwarming and wish Dr Greger a Happy Valentines Day. I looked at the blog before there were any comments yesterday, but I can’t post on the site except at places like Starbucks, which is where I am right now.

      I love beans, even before this and I watched Dr Fuhrmans vidro on beans for Cancer and then, you posted this one and I am so happy that I genuinely love one of the foods.

      And I liked your words on nuts on Plant Based London. I want Dr Fuhrman to do a study because I love nuts and beans.

      1. Oh, I just remembered!

        The nuts! Dr Fuhrman said vegans who eat nuts live longer than vegans who don’t eat nuts.

        Adventust vegsns who ate nuts lived longer than those who didn’t eat nuts! That could be why the vegan women didn’t outlive the other groups?

        That or alternative meats or hormone replacement which is another goodbad for women thing no bad, but the vegan women didn’t havd it, what did they die of?

        1. No, there was no mention of ‘vegans’ in that 1992 study. They only looked at ‘vegetarians’ and ‘non-vegetarians’. It’s not clear though what they meant by this – they may simply have defined vegetarians as anybody who did not eat meat.
          https://www.researchgate.net/publication/21528754_A_possible_protective_effect_of_nut_consumption_on_risk_of_coronary_heart_disease_The_Adventist_Health_Study

          ‘When eating nuts five or more times a week, vegetarians showed a risk of 44 percent as compared to low nut-eating vegetarians, and non-vegetarians a risk of 51 percent as compared to low nut-eating non-vegetarians. ‘

          https://publichealth.llu.edu/adventist-health-studies/findings/findings-past-studies/adventist-health-study-findings-nuts

  8. My resting heart rate is 48 – 52 more or less. They call me bradycardia. It’s been that way my entire life. I can’t take beta blockers for my PVC’s though because then I would be in the pass out zone.

    1. I see a few beans, but it looks like they’re not the main ingredient. There are also a lot of veggies — carrots, tomatoes, celery, parsley, etc. Maybe white and/or sweet potatoes in there somewhere too. (?)

      Maybe we’d just have to wing it, recipe-wise: throw together whatever we have on hand.

      1. YR, I don’t know what it is, but I saw a really yummy looking recipe for taco soup on the photographer’s website. Her name is Kristina Demuth. It’s in green, so it’s a link to her website. Looks like she has some great recipes on there. I’m definitely going to try the taco soup this weekend. That & Vegetater’s black bean brownies.

        1. Taco soup sounds good.

          My sister-in-law who doesn’t really want my brother to change his diet had one Specif meal which she loved and it was enchiladas with acorn squash.

          I am happy she found even one meal which can go into their rotation. She doesn’t want to change her eating and doesn’t want my brother to change his eating.

          She also liked the chili, but it was the acorn squash in the enchiladas, which she loved.

  9. I visited my brother in the hospital and he was on the 40th lap around the floor he is on and then stood the whole time.

    Pretty good for the day after surgery.

    Well, 48 hours of fasting and 65% vegan Whole Food Plant Based weren’t enough to shrink it.

    Kind of bummed about that because I had looked at a study from China where they shrunk tumors 1 cm with vegan and all my brother needed to avoid surgery was 2 cm.

    He and his wife ate things like steak at night, so I guess I can’t expect vegan results.

  10. I was just in the checkout line and they had a magazine with a tease of a food which lowers the risk of heart disease 82% and the answer was lentils.

    Is there a beans versus lentils comparison for things like that.

    I think I find beans more satisfying.

    I bought 3 new cookbooks today and one of them uses beans instead of a lentil loaf is that the same benefit? Or does it matter? I will continue to use both, but I find beans have more flavor and I find beans have a comfort food texture and stick together better which seems like it would help with burger.

  11. Hi all,

    I can attest to the effect of beans – I’ve been eating ~250g by dry weight of lentils daily for the last several years and my resting heart rate (lying down in bed first thing) was 45 while doing no aerobic or anaerobic exercise (I was averaging 15k steps per day walking for work).

    After moving to a desk job 3 months ago I have started doing 40 minutes per day of cardio with HIIT intervals 3 days per week. My resting heart rate has fallen to 39-41 BPM lying down first thing. I’ve tried repeatedly to follow exercise stress tests protocols to determine my max heart rate but cannot get it beyond 167. I’m 32 so this would appear to be between 1 and 2 SDs below the estimates. I can run at 7.3mph for 40 minutes at ~143 BPM and can do 3×2 minutes on 2 minutes off at 7mph and 10% grade in the middle peaking at 160bpm before recovering back to 143 to finish. My BP is 100/60. I’ve read several studies indicating inability to hit estimated max heart rate is a ACM risk factor and am wondering if this is relevant when everything else suggests excellent cardiovascular health? One scenario that has occurred to me is that my cardiovascular system is cashing cheques my muscles can’t cover – I.e. over time my observed max heart rate will converge because lactic acid build up and perceived exertion will fall pushing my CV system harder. Alternatively, altering your resting rate also affects your max heart rate, but I haven’t found any reports of this with elite endurance athletes. Wondering if anyone else has seen this?

    Brubaker PH, Kitzman DW. Chronotropic incompetence: causes, consequences, and management. Circulation 2011; 123

    DOI: 10.1177/2047487319826400

    1. Lsteel,

      Maximum heart rate is lower in athletes is what I read because it is related to the strength of the leg muscles and they don’t need the heart to pump blood as fast because more blood gets pumped each beat.

      Don’t know if that is the information you are looking for or not. I am trying to process it, but I have brain problems and can’t process information properly, but I look things up and often find simple answers, I just can’t tell if it answers your question.

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