Is Your Heart Rate the Same as Your Blood Pressure?

When it comes to your health, you know you need to protect your heart at all costs. Heart disease remains the No. 1 killer in the U.S. for both men and women — and there are certain precursors to the development of this disease that you should also work to avoid. High blood pressure is a serious health risk (as it does damage to your entire body), and you should know your numbers here. But is your heart rate the same thing? And if you have a high resting heart rate, is that also an indicator that your blood pressure could be in trouble?

Here’s what you need to know about blood pressure, heart rate, and the difference between the two.

What is blood pressure?

Nurse Visiting Senior Male Patient and checking blood pressure

A nurse taking a man’s blood pressure | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

In order to understand why high blood pressure is such a threat to your health, you must know what’s going on in in the body when you develop it. The American Heart Association notes your blood is constantly coursing through your blood vessels and making its way to your heart. Hypertension occurs when the force of your blood against the walls of your vessels is too high, resulting in damage to the arterial walls. Then, your heart and blood vessels also have to work harder, and this can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

When you get your blood pressure checked, you’ll be presented with two numbers. You should aim to keep that reading under 120/80. If the top number is above 140 and the bottom number is over 90, you’re in hypertension range.

What is your heart rate?

Your heart rate is less complicated (and often easier to check yourself) than blood pressure. Simply put, the AHA says your heart rate is how many times your heart beats per minute. To know your resting heart rate, make sure you’ve been at rest for an extended period of time. Then, take two fingers and place them over the radial artery that’s located in the center of your wrist. Count the beats in a 15-second span and multiply that number by four to get your resting rate.

For most people, a resting heart rate between 60 and 100 beats per minute is totally normal. For athletes or older folks, their heart rates may be even lower than 60.

Are the two always linked?

Nurse taking resting heart rate

Nurse taking resting heart rate | iStock/Getty Images

Since both conditions have to do with your heart, it makes sense that they’d be linked — but the Cleveland Clinic notes it’s actually a myth that your heart rate and blood pressure are synced. According to cardiologist Chad Raymond, it’s very common for your blood pressure and heart rate to rise and fall at the same time. If you’re in danger or exercising, for example, you’ll find both rates spike. But your heart rate and blood pressure can also rise independently of one another. There’s no hard-and-fast rule that states both rates are related.

As Raymond says, “When the two are disconnected, you may be looking at a specific problem. For example, I have patients, especially with coronary artery disease, that have optimal heart rates in the 50s.” For this reason, it’s important to know both your heart rate and your blood pressure numbers so you know nothing’s amiss with your health if one metric is off.

Why high blood pressure is more dangerous than a high heart rate

Out of the two metrics, it turns out you should be more concerned with high blood pressure than an abnormally raised heart rate. As Raymond tells Cleveland Clinic, even slightly elevated blood pressure levels can raise your risk of heart disease or stroke. Your blood vessels will be feeling the effects even if you can’t, making hypertension even more dangerous.

As for a high heart rate, it may not be as much of a threat to your health, but you should still be wary. Some studies show that people who have a higher-than-average resting heart rate may be more likely to develop heart problems in the future. But that’s not nearly as clear-cut as the threat of high blood pressure.

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