A slow pulse rate in athletes usually means a strong heart, but in non-athletes, it can mean heart damage.

Athletes often have pulse rates below 60 because their hearts are strong enough to pump large amounts of blood with each beat and therefore don’t have to beat as often.

But non-athletes with slow heart rates often have damage to their electric conduction system. An electric impulse starts in the upper part of the heart and travels along nerves down the heart, causing the heart to contract and squeeze blood from its chambers to your body. If the nerves in the heart are damaged, electric impulses can be blocked and the heart can miss beats. This is called heart block and is a sign of heart damage. If you are an athlete with a slow heart rate, you are probably healthy, but if you do not exercise and have a pulse rate below 60, check with your doctor.

Checked 11/28/13