Pulse--How Low Can You Go?!

Let’s start with a little background. I do speed/distance rollerblading, about an hour daily, as hard as I can muster. Sometimes, for the heck of it, I go to drug stores or supermarkets afterwards and play with the automated blood pressure cuff they usually set up near the pharmacy. I typically can get the pressure to read around 100-110/60-70 (somewhere in that range), but the real kicker is pulse. The lowest I’ve gotten is 41.

This makes me wonder. What is the lowest recorded human pulse, and who does it belong to? What’s the lowest it’s safe for that particular vital stat to be? Obviously, if you’re in poor cardiovascular shape and have a resting pulse above 100, you’re in trouble, but what if it’s so low it’s hard to measure? What are the likely consequences? I’m asking not because I’m worried about overconditioning (because frankly, I don’t care), but because I’m curious whether the truly serious track athletes are at risk for anything the normal human population isn’t.

About 20 years ago my favorite sports hero was Bjorn Borg (who won the Men’s Wimbledon Championship 5 times in a row). I remember reading about his tremendous physical shape and his resting pulse rate of…28! I was in elementary school at that time, and my memory could be rusty, but I was very impressed by that figure and am pretty sure that’s what I read.

Personally, my resting heart rate at 19 years old was about 44 beats per minute, which I assumed was pretty healthy. But a doctor once told me that my heart rate was “too low”, but gave me little advice on what to do about it, so I ignored it. I later took my brother’s pulse while he was sleeping, out of curiosity, and it was about 40. Since he’s pretty strong and healthy, I decided not to worry about my own pulse, which in recent years is closer to 60 beats per minute.

I also think it is much more accurate to take your pulse from your wrist while looking at a clock. Those pharmacy machines can give varying results if you use them two or three times in a row.

Can anyone beat Bjorn Borg’s 28 bpm? I’ll try to back this up with a cite…

When Gordie Howe returned to the NHL, playing for the
Hartford Whalers in 1980, I remember reading that his
resting pulse then was @ 30.

I can’t find a cite, though.

Aside: I know those pharmacy machines tend to be inaccurate, so I usually take 2-3 passes at them. That time, I was between 41-44 every time, so I’d say it was pretty consistent. However, I don’t trust the blood pressure part–my arm is much too small in diameter for it to give a truly accurate reading.

However, 28-30 bpm?! Geez. Wonder if they had the same tendency to black out when first standing up that I do?!

And, let’s not forget my other question–would having a heart that “healthy” cause any other health-related problems?

It says here that two-time Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain’s resting heart rate is 28. I thought I read of someone else who is even lower, but can’t remember.

I know that you’re talking about healthy adults, but the Guinness Book of Records under “lowest body temperature” notes that a baby boy born in 1992 had a body temperature of 64.4ºF shortly after birth. His pulse rate when he reached the hospital was 10 beats per minute. He survived.

I think a resting pulse and a sleeping pulse are different. In 1997 I had a pulse around 80-85 that was resting. Activty would raise it to 90 to 100, I also had borderline blood pressure. My doctor just to be safe gave me a 48 hour halter monitor test.

At night during my sleep it would fall to 42 bpm.

Upon waking it would zoom back up to 85 where it was consistant. A cardiologist told me that averaging it out for 24 hours it was roughly 65 bpm for the entire day. The said it was most likely nerves and gave me a beta blocker for the pulse and borderline blood pressure.

He also stated as long as a pulse was within a normal range it wasn’t the bpm as much as the consitancy and the strength of the heart beat.

Speaking for myself only here…

Through mediation and breathing control exercises I can lower my pulse at will to 50 bpm from a resting pulse of 65. I used to be in much better shape and had a resting pulse of 45, I was cycling a minimum of 40 miles per day, averaging a speed of 25mph.

The reason that a top notch athlete can attain such a low pulse is because their bodies utilize oxygen much more efficiently than most of us. To get to these kind of levels a person would have to work out intensely for 1.5 hours per day, every day.

Funny that this question arose as I read an article on this very subject earlier this evening in National Geographic. I can’t remember what the issue was except that it was fairly recent.

Grand Prix driver Michael Schumacher reportedly has a very very low pulse, which will not increase under stress. I will try and find a cite for this.