WEDNESDAY, Dec. 7, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Tracking the change in an older adult's heart rate when they stand up might reveal their risk of death over the next several years, a new study suggests.

As the researchers explained, when people stand up their heart rate initially increases, and then recovers.

The speed of that heart rate recovery in the 20 seconds after standing predicted an older adult's risk of dying within the next four years, according to a team at Trinity College Dublin, in Ireland.

"The speed of heart rate recovery in response to standing is an important marker of health and vitality that could be assessed quite readily in a clinical setting such as a hospital," study lead author Dr. Cathal McCrory said in a college news release.

One cardiologist in the United States believes the new test has promise.

"Changes in heart rate during specific activities is a normal response," said Dr. Satjit Bhusri, who's with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

"The authors of this study have established a link with this response as a marker for overall heart health," he said. "We now have another tool to help our patients as we predict ... their long-term heart health and survival."

The new study included nearly 4,500 Irish adults aged 50 and older. The research showed that those with the slowest heart rate recovery were seven times more likely to die in the next four years compared to those with the fastest heart rate recovery.

Those with the slowest recovery remained 2.3 times more likely to die during the study period even after the researchers accounted for other factors, such as age, diabetes, lung disease, socio-economic status, smoking, diet and weight.

Another study author, Rose Anne Kenny, explained that "changing from lying or sitting to standing postures is a repeated activity throughout the day and poses a challenge to the cardiac system to maintain steady blood pressure and heart rate, and thus lower stress on the system."

Kenny added that heart rate recovery can be improved, "possibly by simple strategies such as individualized exercise."

The study was published online recently in the journal Circulation Research.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases offers health tips for older adults.