Heart Rate & Blood Pressure

Last reviewed: 19 Jul 2022

Medically Reviewed By: Dr Jay Shah

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Heart Rate And Blood Pressure: Your Questions Answered

What’s the difference between blood pressure and heart rate? How are the two linked? And which is more important? In this article we aim to clear up some of the confusion around blood pressure and heart rate and help you better understand and manage your health.


What’s the difference between blood pressure and heart rate?

Blood pressure and heart rate (or pulse) are easily confused – both are measurements used by doctors to monitor your heart and overall health. But while they’re similar, they can each tell us different things about what’s happening in your body.

  • Blood pressure is the force of your blood moving through your blood vessels.
  • Heart rate, or pulse rate, is the number of times your heart beats per minute.

If you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure, or hypertension, the only way you can monitor the condition is by measuring your blood pressure – not checking your heart rate.


What should my blood pressure and heart rate be?

A normal blood pressure reading is somewhere around 120/80. Doctors consider blood pressure to be elevated when the top number (systolic pressure, the force the heart uses to pump blood out to the body) is between 130 and 139 and the bottom number (diastolic pressure, the pressure in your blood vessels between beats) is between 80 and 89.

Typical pulse measurements range from 60 to 100 beats per minute and depend on a range of factors, including your age, body mass, fitness level, diet and medical conditions.

What’s normal for one person could be cause for concern in another. For example, someone who’s very fit may have a very low resting heart rate. Because their heart muscles are stronger, it pumps more effectively, meaning it doesn’t need to beat as often.


How are blood pressure and heart rate linked?

Blood pressure and heart rate often rise and fall together. For example, if you’re in danger, your blood pressure and pulse may rise sharply simultaneously.

However, that’s not always the case. When you exercise, your heart beats faster to pump more blood around your muscles. Even though your heart is beating more times a minute, healthy blood vessels dilate to allow blood to flow through more easily, meaning your blood pressure should only rise slightly.

High blood pressure with a low pulse – where the blood is putting increased pressure on the blood vessels but the heart is beating fewer than 60 times per minute – often tends to happen when you’re taking medication for high blood pressure and usually isn’t anything to be concerned about. If you’re very fit, with a naturally low pulse, you could also have a low pulse and elevated blood pressure after exercising.

But if you’re not taking any medication, it could be a sign of high blood pressure requiring treatment or serious injury. Your best option is to see a doctor to investigate, especially if you’re feeling dizzy or short of breath.


How does exercise affect blood pressure and heart rate?

We often talk about heart rate in relation to exercise. The greater the intensity of the exercise, the more your heart rate will increase. And the fitter you are, the sooner your heart rate will return to normal when you finish exercising. For those reasons, monitoring your heart rate is a good way to determine the intensity of the exercise.

We know that regular physical activity helps strengthen the heart, and that a stronger heart can pump more blood with less effort. As a result, the force on the arteries decreases, lowering blood pressure. To find out how hard you should be working for the greatest health benefits, enter your age into the British Heart Foundation’s target heart rate calculator.


Which is more critical, blood pressure or heart rate?

Experts agree that elevated blood pressure is generally more dangerous than a high heart rate.  Dr Luke Laffin, a cardiologist at The Cleveland Clinic, says there’s enough clinical evidence to suggest that even a slight increase in blood pressure over time carried a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.

‘Essentially, for each increment of 20mmHg over 115mmHg systolic, your risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure or chronic kidney disease doubles,’ Dr Laffin says.

While an elevated heart rate can also signify greater risk, the cause-effect relationship is unclear: ‘Studies show that people with faster baseline heart rates are more likely to have cardiac problems and premature cardiac death. But we’re not sure whether that is the cause of the problem or just a sign of what’s going on.’

Heart rate may be the more important of the two if you have atrial fibrillation, meaning you have an irregular and often fast heartbeat. But since many other heart diseases are more closely linked to blood pressure, it’s a good idea to monitor both. As Dr Laffin says, ‘knowing both numbers helps better understand how to make lifestyle and medication adjustments.

Aktiia Team Written by The Aktiia Team

Our mission is to help people live free from hypertension.

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