Obesity may raise the risk of an elevated resting heart rate, which is associated with many cardiovascular health problems. But other factors can also play a role, such as heat, stress, or certain medications.

Your resting heart rate, also known as your pulse, is the number of times the heart beats per minute (bpm) while you’re sitting, resting, or otherwise quiet and still.

A resting heart rate (RHR) that is faster than normal can sometimes indicate problems with your heart function, such as the presence of an arrhythmia, a potentially dangerous heart rhythm disturbance. A slower-than-normal heart rate (bradycardia) may also be problematic, though it can also indicate high levels of cardiovascular fitness.

Many factors can affect your heart rate, including body fat. Body fat is measured by a body mass index (BMI), which uses a person’s height and weight to arrive at a score. People with obesity may be more likely to have an elevated RHR.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines overweight as a BMI score of 25 to 29, while obesity refers to a BMI score of 30 or higher. Measuring your heart rate, regardless of your BMI, is one way to monitor your heart function and be alert to signs of potential problems.

According to the American Heart Association, a person’s average RHR can be from 60 bpm to 100 bpm, though an RHR at the lower end of that range is generally considered to be healthier. Your ideal heart rate, whether at rest or when exercising, depends on such factors as age, sex, and lifestyle.

Because there is such a broad range for average RHR, many people with obesity may have the same RHR as people who have an average BMI. However, research suggests that obesity is often associated with an elevated RHR.

For example, a 2020 study suggests that study participants with an average BMI of 22.9 had an average RHR of 75.5. bpm. Study participants with an average BMI of 32.5 had an average resting heart rate of 78.1 bpm.

Body type may be one factor that can raise a person’s RHR, but there are others. The following conditions and behaviors can also trigger an increase in your heart rate:

  • body position: standing may raise RHR more than sitting or lying down
  • emotional state: especially feelings such as stress, excitement, or anger
  • medications: such as those for thyroid disease, asthma, and other conditions

Air temperature and humidity can also affect your RHR, especially if you have overweight or obesity.

A 2015 study suggests that, in very hot and moderately humid conditions, a person with a BMI between approximately 18 and 25 had an average RHR of between 67 and 89 bpm, while someone with a BMI between 25 and 32 had an average RHR of between 71 and 101 bpm.

Carrying excess weight can make it harder for the heart to pump blood throughout the body. This can raise heart rate and blood pressure.

Obesity is also associated with a buildup of fatty plaques inside the arteries, which causes them to narrow (atherosclerosis).

Excess body fat can also put pressure on the organs and the blood vessels inside them. The constriction can cause your RHR to increase as the heart works harder to supply blood to all of the body’s organs, muscles, and tissue.

What exactly is body fat?

Body fat is referred to in scientific terms as adipose tissue. It’s connective tissue that lies just under the skin, between your internal organs, and elsewhere in the body.

Having obesity means you have an excessive amount of adipose tissue, and that can lead to many health problems. For example, excess adipose tissue causes the body’s metabolism to work harder, and as a result, it means your RHR will increase.

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A high RHR is one of several indicators that your cardiovascular system is under stress, which can lead to heart problems.

A 2018 study suggests that people with obesity aren’t just more likely to have an elevated heart rate, but they are at a higher risk of developing a potentially dangerous heart rhythm problem called atrial fibrillation (afib). Afib is a major risk factor for blood clot formation and stroke.

A 2021 study suggests that healthy people with obesity (those without any major medical conditions and who didn’t drink excessively or smoke) who had an elevated RHR also faced higher risks of inflammation and heart disease risk factors, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

A 2016 study also notes that being overweight raises the risk of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, and that having an elevated RHR increases the risk of those blood glucose (sugar) disorders.

There are several steps you can take to lower your heart rate, including losing weight if you have obesity.

The best approach, rather than with a fad diet or supplements, is to lose weight slowly and steadily through a combination of healthy diet and exercise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

By adopting healthy eating patterns and a routine of regular exercise, you stand the best chance of keeping the weight off once you’ve lost it.

Other ways to lower your heart rate include:

While having obesity doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll also have an abnormally high RHR, it does raise the risk that your RHR, along with your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose levels may all be too high.

Talk with a doctor about strategies for managing your weight and getting your RHR into a healthy range. Tackling these two issues may go a long way in helping you achieve and maintain good cardiovascular health.