HRV used to be that concept everyone has heard of, but no one really pays too much attention to it. Well, not anymore. Over the last few years, using HRV as a metric to measure cardiovascular and general health has skyrocketed with the emergence of portable heart rate variability monitorsin your pocket – thank you, technology! Now, it is easier than ever to track and collect vital health information, of which heart rate variability is part. Here, we will overview what exactly HRV means, how to measure it, why it is crucial, and, of course, how to improve it. Let’s go!
What does HRV mean?
HRV is an acronym for heart rate variability. In the simplest of terms, HRV is a measure of the difference in time between heartbeats.
Don’t confuse it with heart rate, which is the number of times your heart beats a minute. While they are definitely related, they are not the same. Take, for instance, a heart rate of 75 beats per minute. From simple calculations, one can deduce that there are 0.8 seconds between heartbeats. However, that’s just theoretical. In actuality, there may be 0.7 seconds between two heartbeats and 1 second between some other two heartbeats.
The periods between successive heartbeats are known as R-R intervals and are typicallymeasured in milliseconds.
After getting the gist about HRV, the next question that usually pops in people’s heads is, “what is a good heart rate variability measurement?” But before we answer that, we need first to consider how to measure HRV in the first place.
For a long time, an electrocardiogram (ECGs) was the primary way of measuring HRV. But over the last few years, many companies have leveraged technological advancements to develop heart rate variability monitors and apps that can help measure HRV. Note, though, that you cannot substitute an ECG with an HRV measurement.
The Apple Watch is an excellent way of measuring HRV. You may have heard of HRV training Apple Watch, which is usually common in gyms and among athletes or fitness enthusiasts.
While getting the Apple Watch to measure HRV is not too much of a problem, analyzing the values obtained from the measurements is the real issue. HRV measurements are often taken automatically at random times in the day or night. But the raw data from these measurements aren’t too relevant on their own,
It is crucial to get different measurements for deep analysis and an app with great accuracy and a large database combined with a self-learning algorithm based on AI is essential. You can sync Apple Health with Welltory, the best heart rate variability app, turning on as many categories as possible for great analysis.
Using the Apple app is not all sunshine, though. One of its key limitations is that the RR series is only available through the use of the Apple Breathe App in an indirect way. It also doesn’t comply to the standard Bluetooth low energy heart rate profile. Raw data is also pretty inaccessible, leading to insufficient data for computing HRV measurements.
Why Check Heart Rate Variability?
Knowing how to calculate heart rate variability is one thing, understanding why we actually check HRV is another entirely. The truth is many people have HRV training devices but don’t know why they need HRV measurements in the first place. Some of the reasons are stated below:
- HRV measurements can help detect stress levels. Generally, HRV values should be interpreted with proper considerations of context. This simply means too low or high value may not necessarily be bad things. However, high HRV values often mean better stress resistance ability and cardiovascular fitness.
- Measuring HRV can help identify imbalances in the ANS. HRV may be a function of heart rate, but it originates in the nervous system – the autonomic nervous system, to be precise. In a flight-or-fight state, the variance between successive heartbeats is low compared to a relaxed state. Having consistently low HRV measurements isn’t healthy.
- HRV measurements can improve one’s knowledge about how their lifestyle habits affect their cardiovascular and general health. Good lifestyle habits, like a good diet and regular exercise, often correspond to good HRV readings. Conversely, bad lifestyle habits, like excessive drinking, smoking, unhealthy eating, etc., take a toll on cardiovascular health.
What Controls the Heart Rate Variability?
The hypothalamus and autonomic nervous system control heart rate variability. The ANS is divided into the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, and they control the involuntary aspects of your body system.
These two subsystems of the ANS are usually in constant competition. The parasympathetic system is the rest-digest system, and it usually decreases heart rate. On the other hand, the sympathetic system is the fight-flight system and usually increases heart rate.
Ideally, there should be a balance between these two subsystems, and this balance is well reflected in the HRV. A high heart rate variability measure is a sign that the body is responsive to both the parasympathetic and sympathetic systems. Lower heart rate variability measures mean one of the systems is more dominant than the other, usually the sympathetic system. Again, this isn’t always bad and must be considered contextually. For example, you wouldn’t want the parasympathetic system to dominate in a 100-meter dash!
Generally, a good HRV number is 65 for men and 62 for women.
How to improve heart rate variability?
Regular exercise is one of the best ways you can improve your HRV values. For people who, for whatever reason, cannot go to gyms or work out, ensure you are physically active in some way. This may mean walking to work, taking the stairs, swimming, anything really to keep yourself active. On the flipside, overdoing this may make matters worse. So, apply caution.
Many deep, controlled breathing techniques can help improve your HRV. They may seem insignificant but can do your body a whole lot of good. You can practice these breathing methods during yoga, meditation, and mindfulness sessions and finally get that high heart variability measure down.
Deep and consistent sleep
Everyone always talks about how exercise is one of the best ways to staying fit but neglect sleep. It doesn’t make any sense at all as sleep is just as important as exercise for your health. Try to keep a good sleep schedule, go to bed, and wake up regularly every day.
Of course, this had to be here; it always is. Eat healthy, maintaining good nutrition as much as possible. And good nutrition also includes taking lots of water and cutting down on your alcohol intake.
Heart rate variability measurement is an excellent metric for judging cardiovascular and general health. It gives a fair indication of the balance between the parasympathetic and sympathetic systems. You can measure HRV with an Apple Watch, with the Welltory app assisting with proper health analysis. Proper eating, sleeping, and exercise are great ways to improve and boost one’s HRV.