Have you ever wondered what effect different life stressors effect the overall health of your body?
What about the continuous overtime you are accepting at work, or the argument you had with your friend last week?
Life can be stressful at times, and these stressors can be good and bad, and come from many places such as exercise, diet, work, relationships, family, and the list goes on. These can have a big effect on the way we are feeling, and the way our body is functioning. Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a great measurement to monitor the body’s overall adaptability and response to stress – whether that stress be sports and performance based or overall wellness based.
What is Heart Rate Variability (HRV)?
HRV stands for heart rate variability and is the measurement of the variation in time between each heartbeat. This measurement is controlled by the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is part of the peripheral nervous system that controls involuntary visceral processes of the body including heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, digestion and arousal. The ANS consists of both:
- the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for our ‘fight-and-flight’ response and,
- the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for our ‘rest-and-digest’ response.
These two nervous systems work together to maintain balance and equilibrium between our body’s systems. HRV can be used to assess and measure the overall activity of the ANS.
Why would we check HRV?
HRV can be a great way to monitor sleep, recovery, performance and overall health and can give a good indication of the resilience and behavioural flexibility of a person’s nervous system and its response life stressors.
If a person is in more relaxed and chilled state, their parasympathetic system is more dominant and the variation between their heartbeats is high. If a person is in a more fight-or-flight state their sympathetic system is more dominant and the variation between each heartbeat is low. Put simply, HRV should increase during relaxing times and naturally decrease during stressful times.
Someone who is fit and healthy will naturally have a higher resting HRV. HRV is a good way to monitor overall wellbeing and fitness because as we change our lifestyle to be healthier. Exercise more, eat healthier and decease stress in our lives – our resting HRV will begin to improve.
If the body is constantly under stress and in a sympathetic dominant state, the HRV can remain low even in times of rest and relaxation. Low HRV is a warning of the body systems and is linked to increased mortality and disease. Low HRV is also a risk factors for hypertension, cardiovascular disease and chronic fatigue and can have a big impact on mood, anxiety and mental health.
How do we check Heart Rate Variability?
HRV can be measured through electrocardiogram-based methods, often used in the medical field to monitor heart conditions and other medical conditions. Luckily for us this day and age there are different heart rate monitoring devices that can attach around your chest, wrist or finger that provide a HRV measurement. Some examples are Fitbits, Garmin watches and a Polar Heart Rate Sensor.
Why not try introducing some meditation or mindful relaxation into your daily routine and see what effect this has on your bodies nervous system and HRV.
Campos, M. (2019). Heart rate variability: A new way to track well-being. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/heart-rate-variability-new-way-track-well-2017112212789
ChuDuc, H., NguyenPhan, K., & NguyenViet, D. (2013). A review of heart rate variability and its applications. APCBEE Procedia, 7, 80-85. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apcbee.2013.08.016
Hoffman, T. (n.d.) What is heart rate variability (HRV) & why does it matter? Firstbeat. https://www.firstbeat.com/en/blog/what-is-heart-rate-variability-hrv/