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What Does Heart Rate Variability Tell You

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Is It Better For Your Hrv To Be Low Or High

How To Use Heart Rate Variability

Low HRV may mean that your fight-or-flight response is dominating, leading to fewer variations between heartbeats. This may be triggered by negative situations, such as stress or lack of sleep. Low HRV may thus indicate poor health that can contribute to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety and even some cardiovascular diseases.

High HRV may occur when the relaxation response is more activated, resulting in decreased time between heartbeats. This may be seen when you are relaxed. In this state, you have more flexibility and resilience in switching between low and high heart rates. High HRV may thus indicate better cardiovascular health and the ability to cope better with stressful situations.

Why Standard Autonomic Nervous System Testing Methods Miss Most Cases Of Dysautonomia And Vagopathy

Most analysis for autonomic nervous system function relies on changes in blood pressure with various position changes. Blood pressure, unfortunately, is a latter finding in dysautonomia and vagopathy whereas changes in HRV occur much sooner. Baseline HRV and HRV parameter changes to stressors is a much more sensitive test and shows up much sooner when dysautonomia and vagopathy are present. Also, since HRV testing can be done at home it can be utilized to assess the progress of treatment.

Heart Rate Variability : Everything You Need To Know

Advanced metrics and data was once something only professional athletes with access to cutting edge technology and a team of medical experts were able to benefit from. Thankfully, advancements in technology have made receiving data like heart rate variability more accessible than ever.

These days, its easy to check the health of your cardiovascular system and progress being made with your current training plan. Whether youre a runner, cyclist, or fitness enthusiast, its important to understand how heart rate variability can be used to your benefit. So here is HRV explained the how and why of tracking this metric.

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How To Improve Heart Rate Variability

Methods for increasing HRV include the following:

Intelligent Training. Dont overdo it and push too hard for too many days without giving your body an opportunity to recover .

Hydration. The better hydrated you are, the easier it is for your blood to circulate and deliver oxygen and nutrients to your body. Aiming to drink close to one ounce of water per pound of bodyweight each day is a good goal.

Avoid Alcohol. One night of drinking potentially decreases HRV for up to five days.

Steady Healthy Diet. Poor nutrition has adverse effects on HRV, as does eating at unexpected times.

Quality Sleep. Its not just the amount of sleep you get that matters, but also the quality and consistency of your sleep. Going to bed and waking up at similar times each day is beneficial.

Auto-Regulation. In general, trying to get your body on a consistent schedule is helpful. Your body does things more efficiently when it knows whats coming.

Learn More: 10 Ways to Improve Your HRV

Heart Rate Variability : What Is It And Why Does The Apple Watch Track It

Collecting health data with Biostrap

Amidst the many improvements to Apple’s heart rate measurements with iOS 11 and Apple Watch, Apple also introduced a new measurement called an HRV average.

Measuring HRV has been around the medical and exercise community for decades, but it’s only just starting to take root in the larger tech community as a popular metric for tracking your everyday wellness and fitness.

As an actively-training athlete, I was particularly curious about HRV values and how they could help me better build my training and taper my workouts, so I did a bit of digging to try and better understand it and why Apple is starting to track this information.

Obvious disclaimer here: I’m not a scientist, doctor, nor health expert if you’re interested in learning more on this topic beyond this overview, you can find more information at the bottom of this post.

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Is Heart Rate Variability Like An Arrhythmia

Heart rate variability is a normal occurrence, and it isnt an arrhythmia on its own.

The normal beating of your heart is called sinus rhythm. When your heart is beating normally but the variability between heartbeats is greater than 0.12 seconds, this is called sinus arrhythmia. Heart rate variability can sometimes meet the criteria for sinus arrhythmia.

Sinus arrhythmia is usually due to breathing , which is part of a normal reflex of your heart and circulatory system. However, when sinus arrhythmia isnt caused by breathing, it may be a sign of another heart problem that does need assessment by a healthcare provider.

Assessment In Clinical And Optimal Performance Interventions

The selection of HRV time-domain, frequency-domain, and non-linear measurements and norms to assess progress in clinical and optimal performance interventions should be informed by peer-reviewed studies. Professionals training specialized populations might supplement published norms for the general population with values from their own clients. The rigorous data reporting guidelines proposed by Laborde et al. could guide their efforts to publish their norms to remedy gaps in the literature. The metrics most strongly correlated with clinical improvement and athlete performance gains in these reports could be incorporated in pretreatment/posttreatment, within-session, and across-session assessment. While a full treatment of HRV variables in relation to the HRV biofeedback intervention is beyond the scope of this article, we will briefly touch on the issues that seem to us to be the key ones .

In addition to the primary literature, the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback has published two references that identify metrics associated with clinical and optimal performance outcomes, Evidence-Based Practice in Biofeedback and Neurofeedback and Foundations of Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback: A Book of Readings . Further, readers might consult Gevirtz, Lehrer, and Schwartzs excellent chapter on Cardiorespiratory Biofeedback in Schwartz and Andrasiks Biofeedback: A Practitioners Guide .

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Hrv Gives You The Pulse Of Your Nervous System

So how do you measure HRV? In short, you track the time in between your heart beats in a given time period this allows you to see how quickly your autonomic nervous system communicates with your heart. This data is one of the easiest ways for us to get information on how our body is doing on the whole, but it’s a bit less straightforward than your standard heartbeat reading.

For one, HRV isn’t a single number: The metric can encompass a grouping of time- and frequency-based tests, each with their own math behind them. To start, we’ll look at the most common representation of HRV: average heart beat variation in milliseconds .

When I first read about HRV, I figured you’d want to have a low average, as that would mean your heart would have a steady “beat beat beat,” with little to no variation in pauses. If you were healthy, I figured 60BPM should equal one beat per second.

In reality, it’s the opposite: At rest, you should actually see high variability between your heartbeats.

A poorly-drawn example of heart rate variability during a heart reading, by the author.

This is because your nervous system is constantly adjusting to outside factors, whether they be caffeinated beverages, stress from being in a car, catching a cold, or even changes in your mental state as you watch a movie if your brain doesn’t tell your heart to adjust accordingly, the rest of your body may not get the blood it needs to work effectively.

A Brief Overview Of Hrv Metrics

Everything You Should Know About Heart Rate Variability (HRV)

We can describe 24h, short-term or brief, and ultra-short-term HRV using time-domain, frequency-domain, and non-linear measurements. Since longer recording epochs better represent processes with slower fluctuations and the cardiovascular systems response to a wider range of environment stimuli and workloads, short-term and ultra-short-term values are not interchangeable with 24h values.

Time-domain indices of HRV quantify the amount of variability in measurements of the interbeat interval , which is the time period between successive heartbeats .1). These values may be expressed in original units or as the natural logarithm of original units to achieve a more normal distribution .

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Factors Influencing Heart Rate Variability

Physiological factors. Physiological factors that influence your heart rate and HRV include age, gender, and circadian rhythm. Your HRV must be taken into account in short time measurements ranging from a few minutes to a few hours. While you sleep your HRV increases and decreases significantly in the hours just before you wake up.

Diseases. Many studies have examined the effects of various diseases on HRV. HRV was found to be lower in people who were suffering from certain diseases compared to healthy people. Some of these diseases include:

  • Heart diseases

How To Have A Stress

“When things are ideal, your beat-to-beat timing has a great deal of variability. If your interval timing between heartbeats is the same, you are not yet recovered. That suggests you may be overtraining, or that you simply aren’t recovered yet and need either a lighter recovery exercise day or a rest day in order to achieve more optimal fitness,” Debra Atkinson, MS, CSCS said.

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What Is A Good Hrv Measurement

There are no absolutes when it comes to HRV, only individual trends.

In general, a higher HRV indicates that you are more relaxed and less stressed than a lower HRV does. However, what is an abnormally low HRV for one person can be a high one for someone else. Whoop, a manufacturer of heart rate trackers, has a useful graph on its site showing the middle 50% of values for people at different ages: Its quite a large range.

Instead, what youre looking for is changes in HRV. If your HRV drops lower over a few days, you might be more stressed than normal, not sleeping well, or even getting sick. Or, you could just be working out a bit too hard and needing to take a day or two off.

Hf Power And Rsa Do Not Represent Vagal Tone

Heart Rate Variability (HRV)

In healthy individuals, RSA can be increased by slow, deep breathing. Respiration rate changes can produce large-scale shifts in RSA magnitude without affecting vagal tone, which is mean HR change across conditions . Grossman proposed an experiment. If you slow your breathing to 6bpm, you should observe increased HR fluctuations compared with 15bpm. During this time, mean HR should not appreciably change because vagal tone did not change.

While HF power indexes vagal modulation of HR, it does not represent vagal tone. If shifts in HF power mirrored shifts in vagal tone, they should produce corresponding changes in average HR. But, breathing at different rates within the 924bpm range, which changes HF power, does not change mean HR. RSA and vagal tone are dissociated during large-scale changes in SNS activity, chemical blockade of the SA node, and when intense vagal efferent traffic dramatically slows HR during inhalation and exhalation . Shifts in respiration rate and volume can markedly change HRV indices without actually affecting vagal tone.

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How Heart Rate Variability Can Help

Heart rate variability is a way of detecting the level of stress your body is under. Generally speaking , the higher your HRV, the lower your stress levels.

Lots of different things put your body under stress. Some of the most common causes are sickness and worrying, which are obviously not good things. But stress is not always a bad thing. Exercise, for example, is good for you, but it also increases your stress levels, sometimes for many hours after you finish a workout.

So HRV can be a complicated stat to interpret. However, if you follow the trends in your HRV over time, you can start to recognize patterns in how it changes, and how your body is responding to exercise, anxiety and sickness. When your HRV is unusually low, that may be a sign that you are under the weather, in which case you should probably skip a workout. Or at least go for a low-intensity workout, or do something relaxing instead, like some meditation or yoga.

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Improving Heart Rate Variability And Decreasing Cardiovascular Risks

Since reduced heart rate variability is associated with coronary artery disease, increasing heart rate variability should be a part of the patient’s overall treatment regimen to improve prognosis in patients with coronary artery disease.

HRV biofeedback treatment/training can increase heart rate variability and thereby may reduce cardiovascular risk in coronary heart disease patients by improving vagal tone . Back in 2004, a breakthrough study showed that Heart Rate Variability biofeedback training along with abdominal breathing retraining increased heart rate variability in patients with coronary artery disease. :E11).

It is well documented that patients with cardiovascular disease with low heart rate variability do worse clinically as low heart rate variability is linked to both increased cardiac mortality and morbidity.

In 2009, an important study demonstrated that Heart Failure patients undergoing heart rate variability biofeedback treatment/training were able to significantly improve their exercise tolerance :71-91. doi: 10.1007/s10484-009-9077-2. Epub 2009 Feb 10). The significance of this finding is that improving exercise tolerance in Heart Failure patients is a positive prognostic indicator.

How Do You Check Your Heart Rate Variability

HRV (Heart Rate Variability) – How Stressed Are You?

The gold standard is to analyze a long strip of an electrocardiogram, the test we frequently do in the medical office where we attach wires to the chest. But over the past few years, several companies have launched apps and heart rate monitors that do something similar. The accuracy of these methods is still under scrutiny, but I feel the technology is improving substantially. A word of caution is that there are no agencies regulating these devices, and they may not be as accurate as they claim. The easiest and cheapest way to check HRV is to buy a chest strap heart monitor and download a free app to analyze the data. The chest strap monitor tends to be more accurate than wrist or finger devices. Check your HRV in the mornings after you wake up, a few times a week, and track for changes as you incorporate healthier interventions.

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Why Is Heart Rate Variability Important For Mental Health

Scientific studies have found a link between low heart rate variability and mental health concerns, like anxiety and depression, as well as cardiovascular disease and premature death. General dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system as indicated by low heart rate variability is associated with stress, anxiety disorders and other mental health concerns.

Why Is High Heart Rate Variability Better

High heart rate variability indicates that the autonomic nervous system is balanced, which enables responding to many different types of external stimuli with flexibility and resilience. In contrast, low heart rate variability, indicates the autonomic nervous system is imbalanced the sympathetic fight or flight nervous system response is operating in overdrive, and sending stronger signals to the heart than the parasympathetic rest and digest response.

Overall, low heart rate variability indicates that the body is stressed and not functioning optimally, which increases vulnerability to negative external triggers. Lifestyle factors like poor nutrition, lack of exercise, poor sleep quality, and stress can contribute to the imbalance of the autonomic nervous system, which is reflected in low heart rate variability.

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Heart Rate Variability Reflects Your Nervous System

HRV is linked to your autonomic nervous system and the balance between the parasympathetic and sympathetic branches. By balancing the two forces, the ANS helps you respond to daily stressors and regulate some of your bodys most important systems, including heart rate, respiration, and digestion.

HRV is the most effective way of estimating your ANS balance, as it directly impacts your hearts activity.

Independently, your heart beats to its own rhythm thanks to a built-in pacemaker called the sinoatrial node. Your SA keeps your heart firing at around 100 beats per minute.

However, your ANS greatly influences how your heart beats. All the cells within your hearts pacemaker have direct phone lines from both sides of your ANS. They give input, beat to beat, on a cellular level to your heart:

  • Your rest-and-digest tells your heart to slow down, making room for variability between beats
  • Your fight-or-flight system tells your heart to speed up, limiting space for variability

These two systems can be silent, active, or shouting over each other at any given time. Thats a lot of conversation, and it leads to a lot of variation.

As a rule of thumb:

  • High HRV is associated with rest-and-digest, general fitness, and good recovery
  • Low HRV is associated with fight-or-flight, stress, illness, or overtraining

How Do I Understand My Hrv Measurements

What Is Heart Rate Variabilityand Do You Need to Know ...

The gold standard, and most common in clinical use, is an electrocardiogram, or ECG. ECG is the most accurate means of measuring, but more recently, there are HRV trackers you can use at home for less precise measurements. There are wearables for your chest, wrist, ankles, and fingers that all collect HRV data. Awareness of your heart rate variability and engaging in HRV analysis can be a motivator for behavioral change. We all like to get good grades, right?

Once you dive into heart rate variability, theres a lot to discover, like RMSSD , interbeat intervals , SDNN , and VLF . Oof, we wont go on. The most important thing to know as a general rule is that a greater high-frequency HRV generally indicates higher parasympathetic rest and digest activity and greater low-frequency HRV generally indicates more sympathetic fight or flight activity. When wearables tell you they measure HRV, theyre typically talking about HF-HRV, but its good to look it up just to be certain you know what youre dealing with. The world of tracking HRV is fascinating and seemingly endless. At the end of the day, its a great way to understand your well-being and quite possibly, the limits of your human potential.

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