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What is Heart Rate Variability

What is Heart Rate Variability

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a measure of the variation in the intervals between heartbeats. Traditionally it was thought the time between heartbeats was at a constant state especially at rest. It has been discovered though, nothing could be further from the truth.

Image above looks at the variability of three heartbeats via ECG.

Variability in the heart is due to the action of the autonomic nervous system - the part of your nervous system that regulates most of our bodies internal systems. There are three branches of the ANS, the sympathetic branch that when activated accelerates your heart (fight or flight), the parasympathetic branch that slows it down (rest and relaxation), and the enteric branch which is a mood regulator (gut brain). The sympathetic and parasympathetic brach are the major branches. Any change in either of these branches affects the heart beat to beat, thus directly correlates to HRV. 

How does either branch change or become impacted?

There are many factors that can impact the branches of the ANS. Some of the factors are within our abilities to control, and some are not.

  • Our emotions - our intellectual thoughts from present or past experiences will create a reaction (feeling) that is the catalyst for an emotion. Emotions can be energy renewing or energy draining. 
  • Breathing patterns - We perform this action over 25000 times daily, and the action creates the most important nutrient our bodies need. Our ability to breathe optimally for the situational environment you are in will impact the ANS.
  • Age - As we age, HRV naturally is reduced. Our regulatory capacity is reduced based on a loss of neurons in brain activity. (A great reason to integrate cognitive conditioning in our day to day activity!)

 

How do you analyze HRV?

HRV can be assessed by various analytical approaches, the most common are frequency and time domains measurements done via pulse or ECG. Pulse is usually tested in a 5 minute block, and ECG is done 24/7 over the course of a few days. At rest research has indicated both forms are accurate, but with exercise ECG is the preferred choice due to increased pulse waves in the arteries. 

* HRV does not directly reflect parasympathetic or sympathetic nerve activity, it measures rhythms of the heart beat to beat. It better reflects the integration of the ANS, and is another tool that you can integrate with diagnostic tools from your medical practitioner.

What can HRV tell you?

  • Psychological resilience
  • Ability to self-regulate
  • Training effect vs recovery (is your exercise program working)
  • Potential abnormalities in the ANS (wear and tear)
  • Potential health risks (anxiety, depression, and others)
  • Strategic Thinking and cognitive performance
  • Reaction times

Strategies and Techniques

The Vitality Programs powered by Dynamic Health & Fitness are designed based on principles (the why), strategies (the how), and the techniques (what will it look like). We know the why now identifying your HRV is important, the tool we chose to identify HRV is through FirstBeat. FirstBeat utilizes ECG sensors over a 3 day period to assess HRV.

Once we have identified your HRV, we have chosen the HeartMath System and it's ability to be a full self-regulation system through technology and coaching. Our 8 week coaching program focuses on your resilience, your capacity to prepare for, recover from and adapt in the face of stress, challenge or adversity. Your ability to improve your resilience can directly impact a higher HRV and a relative balance within your Autonomic Nervous System.

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 References:

McCraty, Rollin HRV Basics, https://www.heartmath.org/resources/courses/hrv/