Heart Rate Variability And Why It is Important For You!

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a great measurement tool for keeping tabs on the autonomic nervous system. The region of the nervous system that controls involuntary actions such as heartbeat, blood pressure, digestion, emotions, etc.

So now that we know what HRV measures, let’s take a deeper look at what it is. HRV by definition is the differences in time between the R sections of the beat (heartbeat). It is believed and proven that a healthy heart showcases a wide variety of beats while a stressed out heart has an evenly spaced variability.

There are many ways in which an individual’s HRV can be tested and a variety of different formulas that help give the full snapshot of a person’s overall health. Later on, in this article, I will list some applications that make it both convenient and simple to get started on reaping the benefits of this technology. Let’s move on to understanding some of the basics of HRV!

Autonomic Nervous System

There are two divisions of the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic sides. They are like Ying and yang and both balance each other out. It is when we are too much on either side of the spectrum is where we can get into some trouble. First, let’s explain what exactly each of these systems is responsible .”.

Sympathetic (SNS):

The sympathetic nervous system is our built-in alarm system and is responsible for aiding us in getting out of situations that can and will harm us. It creates what is commonly referred to as the fight or flight response.

It’s responsible for the release of adrenaline and cortisol causing a heightened awareness, increased heart rate, dilated pupils, increased respiration, increased perspiration, and inhibits digestion as well as decreases sexual function.

It is the main system that is active in anxious, nervous, and worrisome individuals. However, some of these reactions can be attributed to the parasympathetic nervous system which we will get to later on.

Para-Sympathetic (PNS):

Everything has an opposite, and the autonomic nervous system isn’t exempt. The PNS is responsible for keeping the body in a state of calm and relaxation.

It is often known as causing the “Rest and Digest” reaction. Which is responsible for lowering heart rate and increasing blood flow to the digestive system. It is also responsible for increasing glandular activity throughout the body.

What Do We Need to Get Started With HRV?

Most of the today’s HRV applications will require the user to have some form of a heart rate chest strap that includes Bluetooth low energy (Bluetooth 4.0) or even ANT+ technology. I recommend the Polar H7 heart rate strap; this usually runs for under $100.

How Do We Get The Best Out of It?

Ok now that we know what HRV is and what it best observes, how can we go about using it? Wither it be for athletes or Joe from across the street.

Without going too far into what formulas are used to showcase if one person is showing so much sympathetic or parasympathetic activity. You have to understand that most of the today’s feedback devices have utilized RMSSD (root mean square of successive difference) which is just the differences between RR waves or beats. This formula is used to determine an HRV score and give a value out of 100 in which the higher the number the “better”.

These numbers will help determine a baseline for any individual, and any large deviations from baseline are what will be used to govern if you are in a sympathetic (lower than baseline) or parasympathetic (higher than baseline) state.

Bringing it Back to Baseline!

Now that we understand how the scores work and what it means if you are below or above baseline (homeostasis). We need to understand when it is ok to push the envelope or when it is time to take a break.

With the goal of all of this to gradually increase baseline and our HRV scores. We need to gradually push the baseline up, but it is imperative that we do this in a slow manner and not get excited when we randomly get a spiked HRV score 10-15 above our baseline. This could merely be a sudden increase in parasympathetic activity. Which means our recovery pathways are working in overdrive.

On the other side of the coin, it is ok If you have an HRV score well below baseline as well. It could be some things including intense activity, stressful life. We simply need to take the steps to getting back to baseline.

Low Heart Rate Variability Score:

With a few exceptions having a lower than baseline HRV scores are a good indication of overtraining, illness, and increased daily stress. Which means it’s time to take some time to rest and do some low-intensity work. Such as meditation, controlled breathing, slow-paced walking, and even sexual activity if at all possible.

Some exceptions to having a low HRV score that is good include being a power/strength athlete who is getting ready for competition. Looking to get the benefits from having a sympathetic response. Which can include an increase in performance!

Baseline HRV Score:

When you are landing in and around your baseline score consistently, it is time to start pushing the envelope. Do new things; increase the intensity, duration, and volume of your training sessions.

You will be able to take on far more stressful situations without getting pushed too hard into the red. Take this time to do the things you’re not as good at and take advantage of your prepared nervous system.

It is ok to have slight deviations from baseline as long as it is not of significant about between 5-10 up or down.

High HRV Score:

When you are getting an abnormally high HRV score, it is not a time to celebrate quite yet. This usually means you have been sitting in an overly sympathetic state for too long.Your nervous system has decided it’s time to force you to recover and throws your bodies recovery measures into overdrive.

This is another time to rest and complete some yoga, meditation, light walks and try to increase our sleep to bring the number back close to baseline.

Top Applications:

Elite HRV

This application is completely free. That’s right free and is provided by Jason Moore and encompasses a great design as well as a variety of amazing extras. Including meditations, exercise, post-exercise, morning readiness, snapshot. As well as a great place to store all your data. Including your mood on any particular day as well as any exercise and sleep data you have.

When it comes to getting your measurement, they provide you with a gauge. That the user can easily view whether they are too far on the sympathetic side or the parasympathetic side. As well as when your right in the sweet spot.

Simply get yourself your heart rate monitor and download the application (apple store or Google play store) and get started. It is simple to use and even helps with built-in guided breathing.It only takes 2.5 minutes out of your busy day to get the feedback you need.

This is my go-to application, but there are other options on the market that require a membership fee.

BioForce HRV

This application is more than just that. It is a full-on membership that includes the heart rate strap, software, mobile application, as well as a comprehensive HRV training guide to get the absolute most out of your HRV training.

Joel Jamieson has provided his users with an effective and affordable piece of software. Technology that includes in-depth biofeedback as well as training recommendations. That allows the users to make an informed decision that will help propel athletes to new levels of progress.

The only downside is that it does cost money to be a member. To have access to all the things that they do provide as well as the heart rate monitor.

This is available both for PC, Mac, iOS, and Android

What’s Next:

Look forward to more HRV articles on the best way to utilize different aspects of the HRV. What to do when you are getting a Low or high HRV score!


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KHO Health was acquired by was acquire by 9INE POINT in the summer of 2019 and is now referred to as 9INE POINT Health.

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