What's Your RPR?

This morning my resting pulse rate (RPR) was 63. I take it every morning. Sometimes I forget in my mental haze, but usually it's a welcome excuse to lie in bed for another minute while I time the beating of my little heart.

People usually give me the hairy eyeball when I mention that I'm feeling a bit under the weather and that my pulse spiked this week. What, they ask, am I talking about? Well, elite athletes do it, to keep track on their health and know when not to push themselves too hard. And who says I'm not an elite athlete?

Most people don't know this, but when you are fighting off a virus or a bacterial infection, or are exhausted from a long week at work, your heart will beat faster. Taking your pulse every day – at the same time and in the same position, i.e. sitting or lying down – is a good way to assess if it's the kind of day for climbing a mountain or for watching a movie on the couch while eating takeout.

I first started taking my pulse daily during my physiotherapy treatment because Super Physio had become acutely aware that I tended to get ill quite a bit and wanted me to take it easy when I needed to. When I first started measuring my daily pulse rate, it was usually in the high 70s if not the low 80s (and sometimes shockingly in the high 80s).

It was a little bit of a mystery why it was so high all the time, especially after I became mechanically better (meaning I had built up all the necessary strength in the right muscles). I was doing quite a bit of new exercise and still it was, well, alarmingly high.

It wasn't until the autumn of 2007 that the haze began to clear. I had a great/miserable weekend trip to Bologna with some friends (my friends and Bologna were amazing, my body was not). For 48 hours I found myself in devastatingly severe neck and shoulder pain and was quickly back on heavy anti-inflammatories again.

Super Physio decided something else was up. As before, she correctly noted that I was ill quite a bit, particularly with tonsil infections and sore throats and suspected that might be playing a role in the sudden relapse. When there's an infection anywhere in the body the surrounding muscles tend to go into spasm to keep the injury still (for healing's sake), but these relentless spasms were causing me a lot of pain and aggravation.

She gently suggested that I see an ear, nose and throat specialist about my tonsils and the chronic sore throats, and sure enough, my tonsils were acting like infection magnets. I had them out the following February. It's made a world of difference. Very painful at the age of 31, but completely worth it. Not only did my pulse drop like a rock, but I don't have a sore throat every month anymore!

Now my pulse is in the low 60s most of the time. If it gets to 65 or above I know something is up. Even if I feel fine that day, usually a day or two later something happens. Either I find I've got a cold or my glands feel swollen or I just need a night of lots of sleep. I don't get sick as much anymore, in fact I find that I sometimes feel extra tired or run down, but it never turns into anything big. Without my icky tonsils my immune system actually fights things off (shocker!). But still my pulse spikes and I give myself a bit of a break.

Try it, you might actually find that it saves you from getting flat out ill if you take it easy on days when your pulse spikes. A good rule of thumb is to rest up if you find it climbing 5-10 beats above the resting rate.

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