What Is Heart Rate Variability and Why is it important?
Posted on October 16, 2023 by root
When was the last time you paused to consider the rhythm of your heartbeat? Amidst our daily routines, our hearts quietly beat over 100,000 times a day and more than 2.5 billion times in an average lifetime. Yet, hidden within this subtle symphony lies a remarkable indicator of our health—heart rate variability (HRV).
HRV is the secret language of your heart, revealing your body’s response to stress and recovery in real-time. So, what is your HRV communicating to you? Is your body geared up to tackle life’s challenges, or is it signaling the need for rest and rejuvenation? Let’s delve into the world of HRV to uncover its significance.
HRV refers to the intervals between heartbeats, offering valuable insights into our body’s readiness for action. A higher HRV score signifies that your body is well-prepared to handle stressors like exercise or a plunge into icy waters, whereas a lower score suggests that your nervous system is under strain, signaling a need for rest.
While HRV is closely linked to heart rate, it’s controlled by the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which branches into the “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system and the “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system.
Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system prompts the release of neurochemicals that lower heart rate and induce a state of calm, often coinciding with higher HRV. Conversely, the sympathetic nervous system, activated during periods of stress or illness, releases “fight or flight” neurochemicals, raising heart rate and reducing HRV.
Normal HRV spans a wide range, from below 20 milliseconds to over 200 milliseconds. It’s highly individualized, making it more meaningful to monitor your HRV over time using a wearable tracker, rather than comparing it to others. What might be considered a low HRV for one person could be a high HRV for another.
While HRV naturally declines with age, studies have unearthed a link between low HRV levels and the risk of cardiac diseases. Low HRV scores are associated with sympathetic overactivity, a factor correlated with age-related ailments such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and heart failure.
Interestingly, as individuals reach their 80s, there’s a reversal in parasympathetic function, reminiscent of younger populations. Maintaining consistently high HRV rates among the elderly has even been linked to greater longevity, with centenarians exhibiting higher HRV enjoying an additional 1.6 years of life.
HRV is shaped by a blend of non-modifiable factors we inherit and modifiable factors within our control. These factors, among others, significantly impact HRV, as well as overall health and well-being:
- Hydration: Prioritize staying well-hydrated, as dehydration can trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, lowering HRV. Older adults and women during the luteal phase of their menstrual cycle are particularly susceptible.
- Regular Exercise: Engage in regular aerobic or anaerobic exercise, and venture outdoors for activities like walking or hiking to enhance HRV. High-intensity exercise can provide the most significant HRV improvements, especially for less active individuals.
- Rest Days: While exercise is beneficial, remember the positive impact of rest and recovery on HRV. Overtraining can lead to decreased HRV over time, so listen to your body and incorporate rest days when necessary.
- Nutrient-Rich Diet: Incorporate leafy greens like spinach, mustard greens, and lettuce into your diet to boost HRV.
- Breathwork: Explore breathing exercises such as 6 breaths per minute or resonance breathing (4.5-7 breaths per minute) to increase HRV.
- Gratitude: Journaling about gratitude has been linked to increased HRV, offering emotional and physiological benefits.
By delving into the realm of HRV, we aim to empower you on your unique health journey at Tally Health. We provide deep insights into critical health and longevity topics like HRV, offering personalized Action Plans tailored to your individual epigenetic profile. Your health journey is unique, and it’s time to treat it as such. If you seek additional insight, support, and guidance, our Tally members receive tailored recommendations to help you thrive. Your heart’s journey awaits—let’s unlock its potential together.
Posted on behalf of Justin Houman MD