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Heart Rate Variability- What It Is, How It Works, and How to Improve It

Have you ever wondered how your heart rate changes throughout the day and what it means for your health and fitness? If so, you might be interested in learning about heart rate variability (HRV), a powerful indicator of your autonomic nervous system’s function and adaptability. 

In this article, you will discover what HRV is, how it can be measured and analysed using an electrocardiogram or a wearable device, and how it can help you improve your physical and mental well-being by reflecting your sympathetic-parasympathetic balance.

What is Heart Rate Variability (HRV), and How Does It Work?

Your heart rate is not constant. It varies slightly from beat to beat, depending on various factors such as stress, emotions, exercise, and sleep.

Heart rate variability (HRV) is the slight difference in the time intervals between each heartbeat. For example, if your heart rate is 60 beats per minute, it does not mean your heart beats exactly once every second. Sometimes it may beat faster or slower by a fraction of a second. 

The time between each heartbeat is called an RR interval (named after the R-wave, the peak of the heartbeat on an EKG) and is measured in milliseconds. These changes are very small and can only be detected by special equipment.

How Does Autonomic Nervous System Control HRV?

HRV appears to be a result of heart rate, but it actually starts in your nervous system, specifically, your autonomic nervous system (ANS), which consists of two branches. 

  • the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which activates the “fight or flight” response, 
  • and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which activates the “rest and digest” response. HRV reflects the equilibrium between these two systems.

The part of the brain responsible for processing input from the environment is the hypothalamus. It, then, instructs different bodily functions to either rest or activate. 

A higher HRV means that the heart can adapt to different situations and stressors more easily. A lower HRV means that the heart is less flexible and more rigid in its response. Different factors that can affect HRV are genetics, age, sleep, mood, stress, and pathological conditions. 

The Fitness Benefits of Having a High Heart Rate Variability (HRV)

Many studies suggest that HRV can be a valuable measure of health and well-being, as it reflects the balance of the autonomic nervous system and the impact of various stressors on the body and mind. Higher HRV is associated with better fitness, resilience, and recovery, while lower HRV is linked to stress, fatigue, and illness.

A recent study shows that heartbeat variability is low in sympathetic activation and high in parasympathetic activation. 

Parasympathetic activation increases HRV, indicating enhanced cardiac function and adaptability, while sympathetic activation decreases HRV and indicates impaired cardiac function and increased risk of cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension.

High HRV is a good indicator of the optimal influence of various stimuli, such as cognitive, emotional, environmental, and physiological factors, on the nervous system.

How to Find Out Your Normal and Optimal Heart Rate Variability (HRV)

There are several methods for determining your normal and ideal heart rate variability (HRV) The fluctuation in the time gap between successive heartbeats. 

  • One method is to have an electrocardiogram (ECG) performed at your doctor’s office, which may precisely assess your HRV. 
  • Another option is to utilise a wearable gadget or an app that can measure your HRV and provide feedback on your health and well-being. 

A single value doesn’t define a normal HRV, as it varies widely among individuals and can also change depending on the circumstances. However, for adults at rest, a typical HRV might be around 50–100 milliseconds (ms) between heartbeats. Remember that HRV can be affected by factors like physical activity, stress, and various medical conditions.

Why Your Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is Unique to You?

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is highly unique and is governed by genetics, lifestyle, and health. Research shows autonomic nervous system function, influenced by genetics, impacts HRV. Genetic variations affect neurotransmitters and receptors in the heart, creating distinct patterns. Lifestyle choices like exercise, sleep, and stress management also shape HRV. 

Your HRV is a specific indicator of your health, influenced by your genes, habits, and illnesses. It also changes with the autonomic nervous system, which regulates your HRV differently. Generally, HRV is lower in elderly and females and higher at a younger age and in males.

How to Monitor and Interpret Your Heart Rate Variability (HRV) Trends

To monitor and interpret HRV trends effectively, you should use wearable devices that track heart rhythms over time. Analysing these trends can offer insights into your long-term health and well-being. 

A single reading of high or low HRV might not be a good metric of health, but recording HRV over the long term and noticing the trends can be more helpful, especially if you are taking steps to improve your HRV and general health. A higher HRV trend would show that your lifestyle changes are fruitful, and a downward HRV trend might indicate an underlying issue.

Factors that Influence HRV 

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) depends on a variety of lifestyle and biological factors. HRV is influenced by genetics. Lifestyle factors include regular exercise, proper sleep, and stress reduction. Psychological well-being, such as mindfulness and relaxation practices, can also help. Chronic stress, depression, lack of sleep, and bad habits, on the other hand, reduce HRV. 

Ways to Improve Your Heart Rate Variability 

Elevating your Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a gateway to enhancing performance, and the following steps can help with that:

  • Prioritising regular aerobic exercise strengthens the autonomic nervous system and bolsters HRV. 
  • Good quality sleep promotes recovery and stabilises ANS balance. 
  • Incorporating stress management techniques, like meditation and deep breathing, to mitigate the negative impact of stressors on HRV. 
  • Maintaining a balanced diet rich in nutrients to support overall health. 
  • Use PEMF BioMat. The PEMF BioMat uses pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMF) to stimulate the autonomic nervous system, which regulates the heart rate and blood pressure. According to studies, by improving the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the nervous system, pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF) enhances your heart rate variability (HRV).

By optimising these elements, you can amplify HRV and unlock higher performance levels.

How to Train Smarter and Harder with HRV

Training with HRV means using your HRV score to guide your workout intensity and recovery. It can help you train smarter and harder by informing you that you need to avoid overtraining and injury by reducing your intensity when your HRV is low.

You can measure your HRV with devices or apps that track your heartbeats and calculate your HRV score. You can also use online tools or formulas to determine your optimal training zones based on your HRV.

The Health and Wellness Applications of HRV

Heart rate variability is not only a good indicator of fitness but also a helpful way to track our overall health and well-being. By measuring your HRV, you can learn more about nutrition, sleep, stress levels, mental health symptoms, and disease risk.

For instance, a drop in HRV without any variation in your daily routine could mean increased stress or upcoming sickness. Or, if you want to check how a new diet influences your body, the difference will be evident in your heart rate variability.

Conclusion

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) offers insights into your autonomic health and fitness. HRV is influenced by genetics and lifestyle and reflects sympathetic-parasympathetic balance. 

Higher HRV indicates adaptability, while lower HRV may suggest issues such as stress, inflammation, or disease. 

Wearable devices can track your HRV trends and guide you to make health improvements by adjusting your exercise, sleep, nutrition, and relaxation. 

PEMF BioMat potentially enhances HRV by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system and reducing sympathetic nervous system activity.

 

Frequently asked questions about Heart Rate Variability (HRV)

What does a low HRV mean?

A low Heart Rate Variability (HRV) often means reduced autonomic balance, indicating potential stress, fatigue, or health issues. It might imply a less adaptable cardiovascular system and increased disease risk.

Is a high or low HRV better for fitness?

A high Heart Rate Variability (HRV) generally indicates better fitness. It reflects a balanced autonomic nervous system, improved adaptability, and enhanced recovery capacity, contributing to overall well-being and performance.

What is a good heart rate variability?

A good heart rate variability (HRV) depends on your age, gender and health. Generally, higher HRV means better fitness and lower stress. The normal HRV range for adults is about 50-100 milliseconds.

What is a good HRV by age?

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) norms vary with age. For adults at rest, a typical HRV might be around 50-100 milliseconds (ms) between heartbeats. In general, younger individuals tend to have higher HRV due to better autonomic balance. As age advances, HRV usually decreases, reflecting age-related changes in the autonomic nervous system. 

What is bad heart rate variability?

Bad heart rate variability (HRV) is when the time between your heartbeats is too regular or too irregular. Low HRV can indicate poor fitness, high stress, or health problems. High HRV can also be abnormal and mean sinus arrhythmia. HRV is affected by many factors, such as age, medications, emotions, and activities.

Should I worry if my HRV is low?

You should not worry too much if your HRV is low, but you should try to find out the cause and take steps to improve it. Low HRV can be caused by stress, smoking, or medical conditions. You can improve your HRV by reducing stress, exercising regularly, sleeping well, quitting smoking, or getting medical treatment if needed. HRV is not the only indicator of health, so you should also monitor other factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose.

 

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