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Your Good Health: Slower heart rates are more common in athletes

Most people who exercise do have a slower heart rate
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Dr. Keith Roach

Dear Dr. Roach: I have a question about a resting heart rate, specifically when it is considered too slow for one’s health. I am a 67-year-old male who, from an early age to the present time, has always been physically active every day. Now retired, I feel a great sense of accomplishment when I work out. The endorphin boosts and benefits to my body are my daily rewards.

Recently, I received a fitness watch that tracks my heart rate. My nightly sleep sessions show a range of 39-58 bpm over the past month. During a dental visit a while ago, I was told by the hygienist that she knew of an athlete who died in his sleep, and his heart rate was so slow that it just stopped. Is this possible?

D.M.

That really wasn’t a great thing for the hygienist to say, as there is very little truth to it. Most people who exercise do have a slower heart rate, and it’s a good sign of a healthy heart. Unfortunately, there is a little bit of truth to what the hygienist said, which is that some older people can develop heart block when the electrical impulse from the natural pacemaker of the heart fails to pass to the ventricles. This is an occasional cause of sudden cardiac death.

Your heart rate suggests to me that it’s more likely the healthy heart rate of an athlete than it is a disease of the electrical conduction system, but a visit with your regular doctor or cardiologist can separate this through a simple electrocardiogram in most cases. Some people just have slow heart rates, which can benefit from a pacemaker if they’re symptomatic.

Dear Dr. Roach: I am a 79-year-old man with diabetes and high blood pressure. What are your thoughts on taking a vitamin supplement designed for horses by humans? My son-in-law takes l teaspoon of this every other day for building his body and suggests that it might help me.

Anon.

Please don’t take products designed for other animals. The dosing that is healthy for some animals can be toxic for others. I looked up the product — it contains vitamins and minerals that are important for humans, but the dosing isn’t right.

Supplements are not an effective treatment for diabetes or high blood pressure. Strong data show that people who eat well don’t benefit much, or at all, from vitamin and mineral supplementation, but if you choose to do so, choose one designed for humans, not horses.

Dear Dr. Roach: I read your recent column on overactive bladders. Like many middle-aged and older women, I’ve progressively had more and more trouble with frequent urination and bladder control. I saw a urologist who diagnosed me with bladder spasms. I got very good improvement on an expensive drug called Myrbetriq.

A few years later, an abdominal scan done for another reason revealed a large uterine fibroid. I eventually had a hysterectomy a year ago. Now at 75, I don’t have any bladder spasms and don’t take any medication.

C.J.R.

Fibroid tumors and other pelvic masses can press on the bladder and cause symptoms that feel like an overactive bladder. These aren’t common causes, but I am glad you wrote in about this cause — and that your symptoms have gone away after surgery. Since the medicine worked, I suspect that the mechanical pressure of the fibroid triggered bladder contractions.

Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu