How Heart Rate Variability (HRV) Can Improve Your Life

Vincenzo Recine, DPT, ATC, CSCS

Vincenzo Recine, PT, DPT, ATC, CSCS

Heart Rate Variability; and How it Can Improve Your Life

Do you exercise regularly, stretch often and eat well but seem to missing that ‘IT factor’ that isn’t allowing you to reach your full potential?

Ever think that you may be overloading your system? But how do you know if you are or you aren’t? I am asked these questions by my patients daily, from the sedentary desk worker looking to improve their baseline fitness, to professional athletes looking for an edge.

Fortunately, there are tools we now have access to that can help us achieve our goals by monitoring our heart rate variability.

So what exactly is heart rate variability?

Heart rate variability (HRV) is the fluctuation in the time intervals between adjacent heartbeats. When we measure heart rate, that just tells us how many times our heart beats in one minute. What that doesn’t tell us is how many milliseconds are between each heart beat.

And why does that matter?

Well, it is a direct look into how our neurological system is functioning. If we break down our nervous system into parts, there is one branch called the autonomic nervous system (ANS). This is responsible for all the functions we don’t think about, and to be quite honest we don’t really want to think about! For example, digestion, breathing, heart beat, hormonal function etc.

If we break down the ANS even further you have a sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The SNS is responsible for keeping you alive which is where the term “fight or flight” is derived. The PNS is responsible for repairing the damages your body incurs throughout the day or better known for “rest and digest.”

WOAH BREATHE

As we experience stress throughout the day whether it be mental, physical or emotional, our bodies (more accurately: our nervous systems) are in constant flow between the PNS and SNS.

WHICH IS COMPLETELY HEALTHY! 

The problem comes when we spend too much time in one state. More commonly seen in our society is spending too much time in the SNS or easier said, a sympathetic state. To be brief and not extend beyond the purposes of this blog post, if you spend more of your time in a “sympathetic state,” your body never has a chance to repair and recover. Sleeping, taking emotional and physical breaks are extremely important to allow the nervous system to adapt, or else you are just surviving to get through the day. Which can have an array of detrimental effects to our health.

WOAH, BREATHE AGAIN. THERE’S HOPE.

Monitoring this data can give you a real time look into where your nervous system is. With these numbers you can have a better idea of where you stand in terms of needing to rest. Now you don’t have to feel so guilty for taking a day off from the gym! And the reason being, if you let your body recover as it should, your next training session will be much more fruitful because your neurological system will be prepped and ready to make the adaptations you are looking for!

Two awesome devices used to measure HRV are called the Whoop Band and the Oura Ring. These devices calculate the time between each heart beat as mentioned, and calculates it into a readiness score. These sync right to your phone with the respective app. After a few weeks of collecting data, you will have a more accurate description of where you need to improve!

Questions?  We’re here to help, just drop us a line!

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