Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
HRV is NOT just about your basic Heart Rate per minute. It measures much more. It is an interesting marker for resilience and behavioural flexibility. HRV is a very good measure of the efficiency and performance of your cardiovascular system. A high HRV means your heart is performing optimally, are healthier and will live longer with less risk of disease. A lower HRV is associated with heart attacks, strokes and diabetes.
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is an accurate, non-invasive measure of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) – which responds to everything: how you exercise, recover, eat, sleep and perceive stress.
Unlike basic heart rate (HR) that counts the number of heart beats per minute, HRV looks much closer at the exact changes in time between successive heartbeats.
HRV is an interesting and non-invasive way to identify these ANS imbalances. If a person’s system is in more of a fight-or-flight mode, the variation between subsequent heartbeats is low. If one is in a more relaxed state, the variation between beats is high. In other words, the healthier the ANS the faster you are able to switch gears, showing more resilience and flexibility. Over the past few decades, research has shown a relationship between low HRV and worsening depression or anxiety. A low HRV is even associated with an increased risk of death and cardiovascular disease.
People who have a high HRV may have greater cardiovascular fitness and be more resilient to stress. HRV may also provide personal feedback about your lifestyle and help motivate those who are considering taking steps toward a healthier life.
At Hearing & Health a comprehensive assessment can be done to determine your Heart Rate Variability. You can also learn how to increase your HRV with modern computerised technology.
It is well established that HRV is a measure of biological age. Biological age correlates heavily with homeostatic capacity, which is the body’s ability to self-stabilise in response to stressors. Studies have shown that biological age is a better measure for determining health status and risk than chronological age. Lifestyle choices can strongly influence your biological age regardless of your chronological age.
Lower heart rate variability generally indicates an increased biological age (older). Higher heart rate variability is correlated with increased fitness, health and youthfulness. If your HRV values are below your age-gender demographic range, then you may have underlying health concerns that are negatively affecting your biological age.
Real World Application of Heart Rate Variability
Today, people use HRV to:
- Improve resilience and adaptability
- Reduce stress
- Optimise training and recovery
- Personalise nutrition and sleep
- Improve mental health – mood, depression, anxiety
- Improve mental performance and cognition
- Identify risk of disease, morbidity and mortality
- Re-balance the nervous system with live biofeedback
- Provide early warning signs for changes in health, overtraining or maladaptation
If you accurately and conveniently track your nervous system, you can make better health, training, and recovery decisions to reach your goals.
Your Nervous System in a Nutshell
Your Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) controls the unconscious bodily processes and influences the functions of internal organs. Some internal processes regulated by the ANS:
- Heart rate
- Blood pressure
- Body temperature
- Electrolyte balance
- Respiratory rate
- Pupillary response
- Sexual arousal
The ANS consists of two branches:
The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) controls your body’s “fight or flight” reactions in response to internal or external stressors.
- It stimulates blood glucose (to fuel your muscles),
- pupil dilation (to detect danger and threats),
- slows digestion/peristalsis (to focus energy on the present danger),
- increases heart rate (to ensure adequate blood circulation to run or fight) and decreases heart rate variability.
The SNS is ideally activated to overcome short term stress situations such as running from danger or fighting an intruder. But this same response also occurs when you exercise, perform challenging mental tasks, get into an argument, or are cut off in traffic by a taxi!
The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS) controls your body’s “rest and digest” responses and is associated with recovery.
- Parasympathetic activation conserves energy,
- constricts pupils,
- aids digestion,
- slows heart rate and increases heart rate variability.
The SNS and PSNS control the same organs with opposite effects. Both branches are always working and both are needed to maintain homeostasis (balance or equilibrium) in your body. With every single heartbeat, your nervous system is saying “slow down – speed up” based on feedback from all your senses, emotions, etc. A healthy nervous system has a balanced but strong push and pull between the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic branches. Heart Rate Variability is an accurate, non-invasive measure of the ANS and the balance between the SNS and PSNS branches.
What Do Heart Rate Variability Scores Mean?
Higher resting-state HRV scores signify the ability of the body to activate the Parasympathetic “rest-and-digest” response. Higher heart rate variability is correlated with:
- Increased fitness level
- Better health
- Better resilience
- Calm, positive emotions
Lower resting-state HRV scores signify an activated Sympathetic “fight-or-flight” response or suppressed Parasympathetic activity. This can indicate the body’s inability to engage recovery mode or an exhaustion of recovery capacity. This can be a temporary response to a previous day’s hard workout or poor night of sleep. Or this can be a chronic response to stress that results in reduced health and increased risk of disease. Lower resting-state HRV is tied to:
- Reduced fitness level
- Poor health
- Increased disease risk and inflammation
- Increased biological age
- Negative emotions
- Increased anxiety and depression
Why Does This Matter?
The Sympathetic Nervous System’s physiological response to stress focuses on short term survival in lieu of long term health. This acute response can become chronic (constant, long term) in the presence of stress from modern daily life such as work, relationships, financial, environmental, dietary, physical, lifestyle choices, etc. Chronically accumulated stress from multiple sources can all contribute to drastically reduced health and performance over the long term.
A significant amount of research published over the past 50 years correlates Heart Rate Variability to:
- Disease risk and progression (diabetes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases, gastrointestinal diseases, autoimmune conditions, etc.)
- Morbidity and mortality
- Biological aging and health
- Mental health, mood, depression, anxiety, PTSD
- Physical performance (HRV is heavily used in elite endurance and team sports to guide training and recovery)
- Injury prevention
- Guided rehabilitation
- Mental cognition
Now that you can accurately and conveniently track your nervous system, you can make better health, training, and recovery decisions to reach your goals.