Heart Rate Variability

As I mentioned in my last post, I want to say a few things about HRV today for those who may be interested.

In the late ’90s, researchers began to see the heart in a new light as studies noticed and defined a critical link between the heart and brain: The heart is in a constant two-way dialog with the brain. Our emotions change the signals the brain sends to the heart and the heart responds in complex ways. Research has shown that the heart communicates to the brain in four major ways: neurologically (through the transmission of nerve impulses), biochemically (via hormones and neurotransmitters), biophysically (through pressure waves) and energetically (through electromagnetic field interactions). Communication along all these conduits significantly affects the brain’s activity.

The heart’s input to the brain during positive emotional states facilitates cognitive function and reinforces positive feelings and emotional stability. This means that learning to generate increased heart rhythm coherence, by sustaining positive emotions, not only benefits the entire body, but also profoundly affects how we perceive, think, feel, and perform.

Therefore paying attention to, and altering what our hearts are up to may potentially have a profound impact on our daily wellbeing and health.

As I mentioned in my last post, the heart at rest was once thought to operate much like a metronome, faithfully beating out a regular, steady rhythm. Scientists and physicians now know, however, that this is far from the case. Rather than being monotonously regular, the rhythm of a healthy heart-even under resting conditions – is surprisingly irregular, with the time interval between consecutive heartbeats constantly changing. This naturally occurring beat-to-beat variation in heart rate is called heart rate variability (HRV).

This variability can be monitored and analyzed and provide incredible feedback for the state of our immune system, our emotional and mental states as well as our physical state. High-performance athletes are using this data to determine when to push intense training programs, when to rest and when the exact day is to break that record or to be at their highest level for competition.

I’ve been monitoring HRV for a couple of years and have been paying particular attention to my ups and downs during chemotherapy treatment. I believe HRV is a big part of the biohacking movement currently underway that is attempting to aim modern technology at improved vitality and health outcomes. It is certainly an area I am considering exploring on a more professional level in the near future.

I can go on indefinitely about HRV – there is an incredible amount of research and science out there, so search for yourself – a couple of great places to start are:

I particularly appreciate the HeartMath approach – in addition to highlighting the physical health benefits to improved HRV, the focus specifically on what they call Heart Coherence (also referred to as cardiac coherence or resonance). They demonstrate that greater than any physical tool at our disposal, our mental and emotional states play the largest role in balancing our ANS (autonomic nervous system) and creating an optimal state of heart/brain balance.

My introduction to HRV was during my yoga therapy training when I took to the front of the class wearing a measuring device to see what kind of coherence I could maintain while the class prodded me and teased me and attempted to make me uncomfortable. Relying on my yogic training and techniques I was very proud to keep a high level of coherence. Eventually, the one thing that knocked me out of coherence was the voice and presence of a jaded ex-girlfriend in the room playing a passive-aggressive game that was all too familiar to me! Another story for another day.

I’ve also worn measuring devices during meditation and kundalini retreats to learn more about my HRV and heart coherence, as a way to confirm that was is going on at the subtle level is also going on at the physical. The morning measurement process I use takes only 2 minutes and requires a smartphone and a chest strap. The last thing I’ll say for now is a quick word about devices and apps:

There are a lot of devices out there that claim to measure HRV – including ear clips and finger clips. My research has shown me that the only accurate way to measure HRV (currently) is a chest strap, with the one exception of a finger device called CorSense, which unfortunately runs $165. The best and most affordable options are the following two chest straps:

     Polar H9 (released this year as a more affordable version of the classic H10)

     Wahoo TCKR (most affordable)

My advice is to go with the H9, as my Wahoo device stopped working three times for me and I needed to warranty them. Polar has a much better record of reliability.

And finally, for apps, there are several good ones available out there:

InnerBalance by HeartMath has there own app which focuses on the emotional coherence I just referred to, however they REQUIRE their own finger device, which according to some researchers isn’t highly accurate. If you are primarily interested in the least technical and most user-friendly app, this is the one.

HRV4Training may be the best app for high-performance athletes.

EliteHRV is the one I use daily. It is very easy to use and each day gives a morning readiness score and the current state of my nervous system. A little more about this directly from their website:

The Morning Readiness gauge indicates your state of relative balance. In other words, it is comparing your HRV values to your recent past and telling you whether your Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is in a similar state or if it is swinging widely outside of your norm.

Elite-HRV-morning-readiness-gauge-example-new

1-3 is the red zone. This indicates a wide swing in balance either towards the Sympathetic or Parasympathetic side. A wide acute swing in either direction is usually in reaction to a strong acute stressor or reaching a threshold of accumulated stress.

4-6 is the yellow zone. Yellow indicates a similar, but not as drastic, change in relative balance as a red indication. Yellow days are often nothing to worry about in isolation.

7-10 is the green zone. Green indicates that your relative balance is very close to your norm. A perfect 10 score is achieved when your relative balance is slightly Parasympathetic leaning. This means that if you normally score around a 45 on your HRV score, then an HRV score of 46 may produce a relative balance score of 10.

The sensitivity of the 1-10 relative balance score depends on your individual patterns. If you often fluctuate widely day-to-day, then your relative balance gauge will become less sensitive to change. If your HRV scores hardly fluctuate at all, the relative balance gauge will become more sensitive to small changes.

This is the feedback I can use to observe how the choices I made in the last couple of days are effecting my health (stress, sleep, eating, alcohol, stress, sex, exercise, etc) and help me make more informed choices for the days ahead.

Ok, this was supposed to be a short article and its late so I’ll leave it here! If you’re interested in geeking out on this with me or have also been involved with HRV, please let me know!

One thought on “Heart Rate Variability

  1. Pingback: Tumor Dissolution Cycle 5 | Sitting Quietly, Doing Nothing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s