Not all stress is bad, but how do we know how much stress is too much stress? Are we in rest and digest or are we in fight or flight? How do we know? Can we measure levels of stress to manage our health? According to researchers, there are tools to measure this at home.
- Low heart rate varability is fairly common. Due to the factors of high demanding careers, jobs, familes. Common everyday pleasures can be eventually become stresstors, without realizing it. Especially social media, and televisions. Luckily, there are a few easy ways to check your HRV and reverse it, if need be.
What is Heart Rate Varability?
Heart rate varability or (HRV) is the measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat. Unlike basic heart rate (HR) that counts the number of beats per minute, HRV looks much closer at the exact changes in time between successive beats and the balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic "shifts".
This variation is controlled by the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS works behind the scenes, automatically regulating things such as our heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and even digestion.
The ANS is divided into two elements: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system, commonly known as the fight-or-flight (reaction) and the rest and digest (response).
What do HRV scores mean?
Low HRV: If the intervals between your heartbeats are relatively constant, then you are in a fight or flight state and your HRV is low. Possibly inhibiting recovery time.
High HRV: If the interval length variates, you are in a more relaxed state and your HRV is high. This is associated with good recovery.
Factors that effect HRV?
Physiological factors: physiological factors that influence your heart rate and HRV include your age, your gender, and circadian rhythm. Your HRV must be taken into account in whats considered "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, thus doesnt provide an accurate reading.
External factors: exposure to noise, music or specific sounds can significantly decrease your HRV, because it increases sympathetic nervous system activity. Exposure to pain whether the pain is a localized injury or a traumatic event can directly affect your HRV; due to the activation of the physiological sympathetic nervous system.
How to check your HRV?
The most accurate way to check your HRV is through an ECG machine, but with todays technology, its easier than ever to check your HRV with fitness trackers or smartwatches. Some watches even store this information in apps, to track your health.
Why Check Heart Rate Variability?
- It can identify ANS imbalances. Fight or flight mode activation may appear as lower variations inbetween heartbeats, as compared to rest and digest mode activation; where the variation inbetween heartbeats is much higher.
- HRV can detect stress levels. People with low HRV can easily experience acute stress while people with high HRV rarely experience stress. Helping to protect their cardiovascular system. Checking your HRV can help you understand how to respond to stress in a healthier way.
- Lifestyle awareness. Checking your HRV is one way you can know if your lifestyle habits are healthy or unhealthy for your heart and a great tool to motivate behavioral change.
- Detect how you are preceiving your enviroment. Your nervous system tells us how we are reacting to our environment, our feelings, and and our emotions when we track our HRV.
- May increase self-awareness. HRV measurements may help increase your awareness of how you live and think. HRV measurements help us identify patterns and how different enviroments, social situations and our perception can impact our autonomic nervous system.
How do I improve my HRV score?
You can improve your HRV score by focusing on habits that improve your overall health like proper nutrition, exercise, maintaining healthy stress levels and getting a consistent pattern of six to eight hours of sleep every night.
- Proper nutrition varies for each individual, but the biggest focus should be eliminating all seed oils from the diet. Replacing seed oils with high quality avocado or olive oils. Consuming high quality protein, fat and carbohydrates. This is extremely important for brain function.
- Regulating emotions by staying actice, through a mindful practice of exercise, walking, running, yoga, swimming.
HRV is a tool, and should be treated as such. Testing HRV may not be accurate for persons with cardiovascular disease, or who have underwent any type of cardiovascular surgery(ies), or on any heart medications.