Have you ever heard of heart rate variability (HRV)? Chances are you probably have but still aren’t quite sure what it means or why it matters. Throughout this post, you’re going to learn more about HRV, its importance, and whether there’s something you can do to improve it. Scroll down to start reading.
What is heart rate variability?
Heart rate variability (HRV) is the variation of the time interval between two heartbeats. In other words, it is an accurate and noninvasive measure into the functioning of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The autonomic nervous system is defined as the part of the nervous system that supplies the internal organs including the blood vessels, heart, stomach, liver, kidneys, digestive glands, and others. Your ANS responds to exercise, how you perceive stress, what you eat, and other factors.
The primary difference between basic heart rate and HRV is that the latter provides a deep insight into the exact changes in time between two successive heartbeats while basic heart rate counts the number of heartbeats per minute. Changes between two successive heartbeats are also referred to as inter-beat intervals, NN intervals, RR intervals. It’s important to learn the difference between the two terms because it’s not uncommon for people to assume basic heart rate and HRV are the same things. Let's say you record heart rate, and the result shows 65bpm (beats per minute), but it doesn’t mean the heart is continuously beating 65 times every minute. Sometimes it can be more or less due to changing variability. That’s why it’s crucial to pay attention to HRV as well.
HRV is a significant indicator of health as it shows how in your body function. Heart rate speed affects variability. When the heart beats faster HRV is lower, but when the heart beats slower then HRV increases.
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Applications of HRV
You’re probably wondering why to check HRV in the first place. Why does it matter? As seen above, HRV is an indicator of your overall health and wellbeing. When you're under stress or in the fight-or-flight mode, your HRV is low. On the other hand, when you're relaxed HRV is higher. The healthier your ANS, the better HRV which is why it’s definitely important to pay attention to it. For example, low HRV is associated with worsening symptoms of anxiety and depression as well as the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
The reason why HRV is getting a lot of attention today is due to various applications. People monitor their heart rate variability to:
- Boost cognition and mental performance
- Get the maximum from their training and athletic performance
- Improve overall health and wellbeing as well as the quality of life
- Improve sleep and personalize nutrition
- Increase adaptability and resilience
- Manage or prevent depression, anxiety, and other mental health and emotional problems
- Manage stress
- Measure systemic inflammation
- Rebalance the nervous system with live biofeedback
Above-mentioned are just some of many applications of HRV and its significance. Since it’s a good indicator of the function of different body systems we can easily consider HRV as a live broadcast of some current event – it tells you everything you need to know.
How to measure HRV?
The standard way to measure HRV is with a long strip of the electrocardiogram. The noninvasive test is performed in the medical office and wires are attached to your chest. However, that’s not the only way to measure HRV. Nowadays, many developers create and release apps that help monitor your heart and HRV among other parameters. Some manufacturers have also released their monitors to track HRV, but it’s still not known whether they are accurate or not. The easiest and the most affordable way to measure HRV is with the chest strap heart monitor and well-structured apps that analyze data thoroughly.
How to influence HRV?
Now that you know what HRV is and its importance, you’re probably wondering how to influence it. Is there anything you can do to make it better? Yes, there’s a lot you can do to have a healthier HRV. You’ll find these tips useful:
- Eat a well-balanced diet and enrich your menu with anti-inflammatory foods
- Improve the quality of sleep by minimizing noise that wakes you up, creating a peaceful atmosphere in your room, and following a sleep schedule where you go to bed every night at the same time and wake up every morning at the same time as well
- Improve your aerobic fitness; this is the fastest way to improve HRV
- Learn to relax, but avoid being sedentary too much – recovery is equally important as training
- Perform deep breathing exercises such as Pranayama, practiced by yogis for centuries
- Practice positive emotions such as joy, appreciation, and love all of which contribute to a more harmonious heart
- Practice yoga
- Train more often, but not too hard, i.e. don't push yourself to do high-intensity workouts every day
Heart rate variability is like a window that shows us the function of body systems and our overall health. To stay healthy and decrease the risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression, and other problems you need to make lifestyle modifications that benefit HRV. It’s needless to mention better HRV will help you get better results in the gym too.