Widely considered as a foremost parameter to measure your physical fitness and your capacity to perform; your heart rate variability (HRV) is indicative of the state of your autonomous nervous system and your psychological well being.
What is heart rate variability (HRV)?
The number of times your heart beats in a minutes is a measure of your heart rate. HRV is the time variance between consecutive heart beats. The time it takes between consecutive heart beats is not linear and instead constantly fluctuating. The oscillations between every heart beat are such that they are constantly changing in a complex manner.
For example, if your heart is beating at 60BPM – it does not directly correspond to 1 beat a second. The variability between heart beats is such that the variance may be 0.85 seconds sometimes while other times it could be 1.15 seconds. This non-linear pattern is measured in milliseconds between every consecutive heart beats.
The personal nature of heart rate variability (HRV)
Measuring HRV is complex since it is an extremely sensitive reading. It is ever fluctuating depending on the time of day, age, genetics, lifestyle, and physical and mental triggers.
Most healthy younger people tend to have higher HRV than older people. Similarly men may also have a higher HRV in contrast to women at the same age. It is often observed that athletes and other endurance based performers have a higher HRV than most people – however there are no absolutes in this discipline.
What is an accurate measurement?
It is extremely important to understand that two individuals can have extremely different readings and still be considered healthy. In a general approach, higher HRV readings may be a sign of superior fitness levels. By measuring your heart rate you can then attempt to calculate your HRV with the use of the right tools. You can get an accurate measurement via either an ECG or certain wearables.
A general at-home approach involves measuring your heart rate with a wearable or oximeter and than placing your finger on your wrist to find your pulse. The time between each pulse will vary when you inhale and exhale. The time difference is indicative of your HRV. Things that could affect your daily HRV levels include exercise, age, hormonal reactions, stress levels, metabolism, recovery and cognition.
Understanding HRV and the nervous system
The nervous system governs every involuntary physiological aspect of your body. While your heart rate variability may be a concerning your heart, it is very much regulated by your autonomous nervous system.
HRV is a by-product of two separate branches in the nervous system competing with each other and sending timely signals to your beating heart.
Often clubbed under, sympathetic (activating) and parasympathetic (deactivating), they are both considered as non invasive markers of your nervous system and thus your HRV.
A balanced nervous system is constantly battling between these two branches leading to fluctuations in your HRV.
HRV application in real life
In most healthy individuals, HRV increases as your heart beat slows down during relaxing and de-stressing activities such as rest, sleep or meditation. Conversely, your HRV decreases as your heart rate speeds up during a stressful situation or while exercising.
Heart rate variability fluctuates on the daily, based on this interplay. The problem may occur when your body gets stuck in either a sympathetic or a parasympathetic system. This could be indicative of a number of physical and mental ailments which may require your further attention.
Improving your HRV
For most instances, a higher HRV means a low and rhythmic heart beat which translates to a healthy heart. Having higher general HRV could be indicative of better quality of life and higher emotional well being along with lower morbidity and mortality. Here are a few factors that could positively affect your HRV.
- Exercise: The right amount of exercise daily rather than overdoing it is the way to go. This gives your body a chance to recover post break down.
- Sleep: Rather than focusing on the total number of hours slept, shift your focus to quality of sleep. Assess your quality of sleep via a wearable and adhere to a dedicated sleep cycle.
- Hydration: Remind yourself to stay hydrated regularly. This will improve your overall blood flow and enable effective oxygen circulation.
- HR tracking: Track your resting heart rate with Noise wearables to assess lifestyle triggers that may affect fluctuations in your heart beat.
- Auto regulation: Adhering to a consistent pattern every day by scheduling your sleeping and eating time, could help your body perform a lot more efficiently since it is aware about what is to come.
- Nutrition: Maintaining a balanced diet and avoiding snacking between meals can positively affect HRV. Alcohol can often disrupt your HRV and is best consumed on occasion.
By focusing on your heart rate variability you can give yourself more insight into your overall well being and improve your general state of fitness.