If you think your heart beats at a regular
interval like a metronome, think again. We have a natural variability in the spacing
between our heart beats. This phenomenon is called heart rate variability, and HRV for
short. It says a lot about our bodily systems, which is why athletes and health enthusiasts
alike have been so interested in this, and why you should be too.
Simply put, HRV is a measurement of the balance between your parasympathetic and sympathetic
nervous systems. These two systems make up the autonomic nervous system, which handles
about 90% of the body’s involuntary functions. The sympathetic nervous system is what kicks
into gear when we are stressed or in danger. We sweat, our heart rate goes up, and the
interval between our heart beats goes down. Our body is primed to either fight or flight.
The parasympathetic nervous system is pretty much the opposite, and it functions like a
brake by disabling the sympathetic nervous system. Called the rest and digest response,
it activates when we are in a relaxed state, and engages processes such as the production
of saliva and peristalsis. It slows the heart rate, and with greater intervals between beats.
When in balance, your heart produces a high HRV through a more variable heart rate. The
more variable your heart rate, the more you can readily respond to your environment and
switch gears between these two systems. It’s one of the most accurate measurements of overall
health that we can get without taking blood tests or body scans.
High HRV is an indication of cardiovascular health, fitness, willpower, calm and positive
emotions, and your capacity to handle stress. The lower your HRV, the less capacity for
stress that you have in your body, so the more likely you are to feel anxious, tired
or burnt out at the end of the day. Low HRV is also related to inflammation, chronic
stress, chronic pain, depression, cancer and low emotional flexibility.
HRV is used in professional sports to predict injury, and by forward thinking doctors to
diagnose disease. Many smartwatches now can indicate your stress levels by measuring HRV
through your wrist pulse. HRV is a huge predictor of persistence and
self-control, and it increases when exerting self-regulation. This mechanism is called
the pause and plan response. By changing our physiology, we can manipulate
our HRV and there are several ways to improve your HRV.
The simplest way to improve your HRV is through breathing at a rate, which is called Coherent
Breathing. By slowing down your breathing, you can activate the parasympathetic nervous
system and raise your HRV, which causes your heart rate and blood pressure to synchronize
with your respiration, resulting in a state that the HeartMath institute calls coherence.
For most people the optimal breathing rate is will be around 6 seconds in, 6 seconds
out. 5 breaths a minute might feel slow, particularly if you do suffer with stress or anxiety, but
you will feel the benefits immediately. Doing a minimum 10 minutes of this breathing
every day, you can develop the skill of producing a state of coherence at any given moment.
Activating this state, you can get into the zone so to speak, and increase your performance
for single actions such as swinging a golf club or presenting to a group.
HRV training has shown to be incredibly beneficial for children with overactive sympathetic nervous
systems and resulting belly aches. After a few weeks of daily training, they show massive
improvements in their baseline HRV and can function much better.
Some autoimmune conditions related to the gut have been helped by this type of training
as well, as our gut permeability is closely related to our parasympathetic nervous system.
Other benefits of HRV breathing include improved pain management in conditions such as fibromyalgia
and chronic muscle pain. It can help with asthma, depression, hypertension,
and self-control. It’s also great for stress management. Around 20% of people will feel
sleepy from following this breathing rhythm, which makes it a great tool for getting high
quality sleep every night. If you want to experience this state of coherence,
you’ll find a video here on my channel. The interest in HRV has increased substantially
the past decade, and several consumer technologies have emerged to help measure your personal
HRV metrics. The most accessible way to accurately measure
your HRV is to use a free app called Welltory. This measures your HRV using your phone camera,
and it provides insight into your stress levels. I use this with my clients suffering from
burnout, chronic stress and anxiety as a way to get objective insight into their wellbeing.
If you want to use HRV to improve your stress levels, then you want the Heartmath Inner
Balance, which helps you train your nervous system to respond better to stress, it’s my
preferred method of HRV Training, as I’m able to measure their HRV on a daily basis
and adjust their training to help them recover quickly from burnout or improve their performance
in high pressure situations. Thank you for watching this video. Subscribe
if you’d like to learn more on how you can use Heart Rate variability and if you have
more questions, please get in touch.