As American Heart Month takes place in February, many people spend this month checking their fitness trackers and thinking a little more about their cardio wellness, but regardless of the time of year, your heart will work hard for you in the background.
There are several ways to track heart health, but despite more than one in five of us using some type of wearable technology that monitors our physical condition, what do we really understand from the data displayed in front of us? One such section that attracts many people is the HRV information, and yet it is an essential piece of data in terms of how you are doing physically, and even mentally.
Fortunately, it will only take a few heartbeats to learn the principles of heart rate variability, because M&F posed the relevant questions to Dr. Dave Rabin, a medical professional who has studied the impact of chronic stress on the body for 15 years. He is also co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Apollo Neuroscience, the company behind the Apollo Handheld Devicedesigned to give patients a way to help heal mental and physical health issues through touch.
Many readers can understand from their wearable technology that HRV is a measurement in milliseconds, between heartbeats, but how is this tracked and when should it be best monitored?
The traditional method is to use an ECG (electrocardiogram) machine in a laboratory that is electromagnetically shielded when the individual is at rest. Most people can’t achieve this at home, so they measure HRV through their phone, smartwatch, or wristband. The most accurate devices are probably the Oura Ring as it does a very good job of measuring heart rate only when you are resting, which is the most accurate time to measure it. It then calculates the average of the rest periods. It is close to about 95% or more accurate, compared to EGC.
Apple Watch is probably second in HRV accuracy. It’s important to note that this doesn’t necessarily benefit you on a day-to-day basis, as what we do each day changes the HRV for that day, and therefore wearables that track HRV over time are best interpreted as trends. week-to-week rather than daily trends. .
What does heart rate variability tell us and why should we pay more attention to it?
Heart rate variability is important because it is our most accurate measure of recovery in our body. HRV is the rate of change in our heart rate over time. When we exercise or are stressed, our heart rate increases. When this happens, the time between each beat decreases. And when that happens, there is less variability.
Then, when we return to a place of safety or recovery, our heart rate is supposed to slow down rapidly. Here the HRV increases because the time between each beat increases, because our body has successfully moved into the recovery phase. If the heart rate is still elevated during this period, it is a sign that our body or brain still thinks we are under threat, and that is not good for us because it means the body and brain are now cleared to recover because he perceives that there is always a threat present. Thus, HRV, tracked over time, in weeks and months, can be a very good indicator to help us understand how well we are coming out of stressful states and recovering.
In terms of recovery, what is the connection between HRV and sleep?
What we can take from this is that if your average HRV is 100 milliseconds and this week your HRV is 30 milliseconds, that means you probably haven’t had enough restful sleep. Deep sleep and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep are the best ways to improve HRV.
Aside from lack of sleep, what can interfere with our HRV’s ability to recover?
Alcohol and drug use. Alcohol consumption, in particular, decreases our HRV, as do sedatives in general, because they decrease the quality of our restful sleep. They basically prevent the body from recovering effectively.
What are some of the numbers we should be looking for?
It is difficult to assign a precise number to HRV. On average, we want our HRV to be above 40 milliseconds and we want it to be on the rise month by month. If we have a bad day, that’s okay. A bad week is also acceptable, but we want it to go up month on month, even if only 1 millisecond per month goes up. There is no known peak in HRV. I think HRV is a great metaphor for human potential.
Having an HRV count of less than 30 or 40, consistently over your lifetime, is at increased risk for all serious diseases; metabolic and mental. This includes cardiovascular diseases, injuries, orthopedic diseases, fatigue, pain and inflammatory diseases. This also includes mental illness. So, although HRV is a biomarker that comes from heart function, it has actually been shown to predict all of these issues. HRV predicts disease that is not unique to the heart. So, we should work to improve our HRV as much as possible and to push it up week after week, month after month. It’s a very good goal to have.
What benefits can we expect from increasing our HRV?
Resilience. Thus, being able to bounce back quickly from stress, being able to recover faster, having more energy, more focus and adaptability to overcome challenges more easily. These include physical, mental and emotional challenges. Having a high HRV is a sign that we are more likely to consistently perform well. We are less likely to get sick, including colds and chronic illnesses. We are also more likely to be present and empathetic towards those with whom we interact. We can be less selfish and less survival-oriented.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone who is really looking to chase their heart rate variability potential?
Practices like meditation, mindfulness, yoga, healthy exercise but not overtraining, breathing, soothing music, and the use of soothing touch technologies like the Apollo, which can increase REM sleep, deep sleep and fall asleep faster, help mind and body to remember that it is safe. The Apollo was
developed from my research for the University of Pittsburgh Department of Psychiatry and their medical centers. We figured out how to use gentle, soothing vibrations, which can be delivered by a small cellphone, anywhere on the body. The effects are like holding hands or getting a hug from someone. This sends a safety signal to the body that reminds our rest recovery and digest (parasympathetic) nervous system to activate. Apollo has been shown to actively increase HRV.
If you can help the body remember it’s safe and help the mind remember it’s in control, then we can almost completely eliminate the feeling of stress. All of these techniques are essential, because they are all things we can do on our own. In addition to this, eat good quality foods that are non-toxic and contain no pesticides or contaminants. These are the things that, in practice, improve our HRV more than anything else.