October 31, 2023

The Relationship Between Your Heart Rate and Blood Pressure

Both are related to your cardiovascular system, and both can impact the other

doctor showing heart rate and blood pressure watch monitor

Blood pressure and heart rate go hand-in-hand in most people’s minds. After all, these two vital signs usually are measured at the same time at the doctor’s office.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

But each measures distinctly different factors related to your heart health.

Cardiologist Luke Laffin, MD, explains some key differences — and busts some common myths along the way.

Heart rate vs. blood pressure: What’s the difference?

When you think about heart rate and blood pressure, your mind probably goes straight to your ticker in your chest. And while both measurements are related to your cardiovascular system, they play different roles.

Heart rate — sometimes called pulse — is the number of times your heart beats every minute. Changes in your heart rate can be influenced by factors like physical activity, emotions and medications.

Blood pressure is the force of blood flowing against the walls of your arteries. Your blood pressure values indicate the health of your cardiovascular system and can give insight into conditions like hypertension (high blood pressure) or hypotension (low blood pressure).

What’s the connection?

Your heart rate and blood pressure can impact each other in different ways. You can usually see this when your heart rate or blood pressure is experiencing extremes — either very high or low.

“It is true that blood pressure and heart rate often rise and fall together,” Dr. Laffin says. When you face danger, for example, your blood pressure and pulse may both jump upward at the same time. But Dr. Laffin also notes that if your heart rate rises, that doesn’t automatically mean your blood pressure will rise — or vice versa.

“When the two are disconnected, you may be looking at a specific problem,” he says. “For example, if you are dehydrated, bleeding or have a severe infection, blood pressure typically decreases and heart rate increases.”

How to measure both

To measure your resting heart rate and blood pressure, pick a reliable and reproducible time, Dr. Laffin advises. Ideally, check in the morning before medications and occasionally in the evening, around dinner time. Don’t take your readings right after exercising — unless you’re trying to establish a baseline for what’s called active blood pressure and heart rate.

During readings, you want to be in a resting position with your legs uncrossed. Many people don’t realize that crossing your legs while taking a reading may cause an eight- to 10-point increase in systolic blood pressure.

Advertisement

Which measure is more important? This depends on your health, too. For people with atrial fibrillation, heart rate might be more important to watch, but many other heart diseases depend more on blood pressure. To be safe, measure both.

“Almost all automated kits you buy at a store provide blood pressure and pulse on one readout,” Dr. Laffin says. “It’s convenient — and knowing both numbers helps better understand how to make lifestyle and medication adjustments.”

Myths and truths about heart rate and blood pressure

Here are some other things you may not know about the relationship between heart rate and blood pressure.

Myth or truth: Blood pressure and heart rate have ’normal’ target numbers

Myth: There are guidelines, but what’s normal varies from person to person. In general, a normal blood pressure ranges between less than 120 mm Hg systolic — which is the pressure as your heart beats — and less than 80 mm Hg diastolic — which is the pressure as your heart relaxes. For your resting heart rate, the target is between 60 and 100 beats per minute (BPM).

Keep in mind that heart rate and blood pressure are a customized fit. You need to work with your doctor to establish a baseline that’s normal for you.

Myth or truth: A low pulse or blood pressure always indicates a problem

Myth: What’s healthy for one person may indicate danger for another. For example, a fit person may have a resting heart rate in their 50s or, in some cases, even their 40s. “It can actually be a sign of being in really good shape,” Dr. Laffin says.

Low blood pressure can be a bit trickier, especially in older people and those with heart disease. If you’re in danger from low blood pressure, your body will tell you.

“It’s really about how you feel,” Dr. Laffin says. “Are you feeling weak? The numbers on their own don’t tell the story; it’s the numbers paired with the symptoms you may have.”

Myth or truth: High blood pressure is more dangerous than a high heart rate

Truth: Again, what’s considered normal varies. But Dr. Laffin says there’s enough clinical evidence to suggest that when blood pressure is even a little above your typical average over time, the risk for heart disease and stroke go up. The physical effects of high blood pressure take their toll on your blood vessels.

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

Elevated heart rate can be a sign of danger, too, but the cause-effect relationship isn’t so clear. “Studies show that people who have faster baseline heart rates are more likely to have cardiac problems and premature cardiac death,” he adds.

Advertisement

“But we’re not sure whether that is the cause of the problem or just a sign of what’s going on. The most common cause of a high resting heart rate is being deconditioned (in other words, out of shape).”

Myth or truth: The faster the heart rate, the shorter the lifespan

Truth: In a large study of people going for a health checkup, those who had a high-normal resting heart rate of 80 bpm to 90 bpm had a 40% shorter lifespan than those with a lower heart rate of 60 bpm to 69 bpm.

But the good news is that 15 to 30 minutes of daily moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, could eliminate the increased mortality and reverse the life-span loss, according to the researchers.

The study underlines the important role that physical activity can play in keeping your heart healthy — and giving you a longer life.

“Even moderate activity has benefits,” Dr. Laffin emphasizes. “So, there is no longer any reason to stay on the couch.”

The bottom line

Your heart rate and blood pressure are different, but both play important roles in your body’s health. It’s important to know how to read your heart rate and blood pressure and take note when either one is getting too high or too low.

Your healthcare provider will usually check both of these vitals during yearly appointments, but make sure to let them know if you notice any sudden changes in your heart rate or blood pressure.

Related Articles

Close up of hands holding heart rate wearable watch monitor and their phone
February 12, 2024
Next Time You Exercise, Consider Wearing a Heart Rate Monitor

This technology can benefit your workouts by helping you hit your target heart rate, resulting in better overall health and wellness

seated doctor and female in doctor office, with female's hand on heart, with daughter
February 8, 2024
Here’s When You Should Go to the Hospital for a Dangerous Heart Rate

A resting heart rate below 35–40 beats per minute or over 100 beats per minute may be cause for concern

person sleeping in bed with heart rate monitoring watch showing
January 23, 2024
Checking Your Heart Rate While Sleeping? Here’s What Those Numbers Mean

Your heart rate naturally slows down while you sleep, but lower numbers aren’t always concerning

Person jumping rope on a bridge
January 16, 2024
Hop to It: 6 Benefits of Jumping Rope

Jump into the swing of things to improve your coordination, burn calories and get your heart rate going

Woman feeling for heart rate in neck on run outside, smartwatch and earbuds
December 11, 2023
Heart Rate Zones Explained

A super high heart rate means you’re burning more than fat

Person using electronic blood pressure monitor at home.
November 6, 2023
Buying a Home Blood Pressure Monitor? 6 Things You Need To Know

Steer clear of bells and whistles — simple, affordable monitors are all you really need

person checking fitness watch for heart rate
October 5, 2023
What’s a Normal Heart Rate? And What Your Heart Rate Is Telling You

60 to 100 beats per minute is ‘normal,’ but you can still be healthy outside that range

chopped and whole onions on cutting board
May 29, 2023
Stop the Tears: Why Onions Are Good for You

Beyond the tell-tale aroma, onions also provide benefits like strong bones and a healthy heart

Trending Topics

close up of keto gummies
Do Keto Gummies Work for Weight Loss? Are They Safe?

Research is inconclusive whether or not these supplements are helpful

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

Older person postioned sideways showing dowager hump.
Dowager’s Hump: What It Is and How To Get Rid of It

The hump at the base of your neck may be caused by osteoporosis or poor posture

Ad