"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Make heart rate variability your secret anti-stress weapon

January 4, 2024 – Just once you thought you had enough medical acronyms in your life (LDL, MRI, ACL, OMG-what a rash is that), one other one is floating across the #IYKYK ether: HRV.

HRV – Heart rate variability – has evolved from a primarily clinical and research-focused metric to a more common metric as a diagnostic found on many smartwatches.

Simply put, HRV is a measure of the variation in time between your heartbeats and may be used as a guide to administer stress. For example, once you're in fight-or-flight mode, your heart pumps faster and the time between heartbeats becomes shorter. This reduces HRV and indicates higher stress.

“It's an excellent and reliable data point,” said Leah Lagos, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in New York City who has been studying the usage of HRV biofeedback for health and performance for nearly 20 years. “HRV is a measure of adaptability and resilience. There is constant stress in life. It’s the ability to not have extreme reactions and recover quickly – that’s essentially what HRV measures.”

For a lot of us, HRV is something like GarageBand – we realize it's on our phone, but rattling if we all know learn how to use it. Here's what it is best to find out about HRV and the way you should utilize it to administer stress.

What is HRV?

Your autonomic nervous system is split into two parts: sympathetic (which accelerates your heart rate to allow you to deal with stressful situations) and parasympathetic (which relaxes you so your heart can beat slower). In extreme conditions, it is simple to find out a quick heart rate (e.g. when running) and a slower heart rate (when chilling).

But from second to second there may be rather more variation on the micro level.

“The cause of this HRV lies in the fact that the two autonomic components are not activated continuously,” said Dr. Hugo CD Souza, an associate professor on the University of São Paulo in Brazil who studies HRV. They work like power sources – they’re either on or off. “Both autonomous components act alternately and occur at different frequencies.”

The frequency of your heartbeat has small fluctuations within the millisecond range, even when it appears regular – so small that they’re imperceptible without special equipment. HRV measures these differences.

Higher HRV – or more variability – indicates that you just are more adaptable and may higher manage stress. A lower HRV – or less variability – signifies that the boundaries between a state of high tension and a state of high leisure are more fluid.

How can HRV help your health?

HRV reflects greater than your stress level. Research shows links between HRV and cardiovascular health, aging, anxiety, post-concussion health and sleep quality.

“Low HRV and overreliance on the sympathetic autonomic component is a characteristic condition of many diseases and aging,” Souza said.

One reason HRV and similar metrics are prevalent in our wearable culture is due to the facility these metrics can have.

“I think data accelerates behavior change,” Lagos said, noting that the way you “feel” is usually not enough. “When data is available, it has a greater impact on the response required. From a psychological perspective, this is an essential part of our new framework for care.”

What is the most effective strategy to track your HRV?

A Study 2023 have shown that smartwatches have excellent accuracy when measuring HRV. Lagos recommends Use one which has been clinically proven to be reliable. (For example, studies have shown positive results for Garmin, Polar, and Apple.)

View your HRV at the identical time and in the identical posture on daily basis to make sure consistency over time. It's essential to notice that low HRV doesn’t robotically mean you might be stressed or in danger. Other aspects reminiscent of lack of sleep, alcohol consumption and caffeine can influence this, Lagos said. It's about establishing a baseline so you possibly can track changes and consider what variables could also be affecting you.

What is a very good number?

Many aspects influence HRV, including age, gender and genetics. Therefore, it’s difficult to discover a really perfect range that applies to everyone. The “normal” HRV values ​​you discover online can vary widely and might not be reliable. Averages based on data from specific apps may not reflect the final population, and HRV research studies show various results.

One Study 2020 A study conducted on a big population – greater than 150,000 people within the Netherlands – found average HRV values ​​starting from around 80 milliseconds (ms) in teenagers to 25 ms in older adults. (Previous Research confirms that HRV declines with age, with the decline slowing after age 60.) The study also showed that HRV tends to be barely higher in women than in men; The average HRV for girls ages 40 to 44 was 41, in comparison with 35 for men the identical age.

Bottom line: Don’t get hung up on a “perfect outcome,” use your data to work out what’s normal for you. Then track that value over time to see in case your interventions are having an impact, Lagos said.

“Higher HRV generally indicates a relaxed, rested state, while lower HRV may indicate stress, fatigue or overtraining,” Lagos said.

How do you improve your HRV?

Studies show that regular exercise – especially cardio training reminiscent of running, brisk walking or cycling, in addition to coordination exercises reminiscent of Tai Chi and dance – might help improve HRV. Additionally, studies have shown that resonant, deep respiratory (respiratory at a slow rate of about six breaths per minute) improves HRV. In a study, people practiced deep, resonant respiratory for 20 minutes a day for 4 weeks; Their HRV improved and their perceived stress levels decreased.

According to Lagos, it's essential to coach your heart like a muscle (it takes time to develop) so you possibly can optimize your HRV and “gain control in just a few breaths.” You could start with 20 minutes of resonant respiratory, 2 days per week, after which steadily increase.

What about HRV beyond stress?

Beyond the health impact, Lagos says the following challenge for HRV could also be optimizing performance and relationships. Healthy HRV allows your parasympathetic system to take control in stressful situations (reminiscent of athletic competitions or public speaking), allowing you to operate in a peaceful, relaxed, and artistic state, essentially leading to “flow.” feeling and never a sense of fear.

Additionally, it could possibly help improve personal and skilled relationships as you possibly can learn to maneuver from an excited to a peaceful state – working together and resolving conflicts. Lagos says her children, ages 5 and eight, even use it. In a conflict, one person might say to the opposite, “Take a breath,” Lagos said. “And they love it. They love the feeling of being in control.”