Do You Know HRV?

Learn About Heart Rate Variability

By Dr. Robin Rose and Christiana Cottrell

Heart Rate Variability and its Remarkable Impact on Health

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) refers to the variation in time between each heartbeat that is determined by the activity of the cardiac sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. An increased heart rate variability is a marker of optimal health. For example, if your pulse is 60 beats per minute, the more variation in time between each beat, or the R-R interval, indicates good health. By contrast, research has shown a relationship between low HRV and worsening depression, anxiety, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

HRV is enhanced when you are in the relaxed state (parasympathetic dominant). However, when you are stressed and living in the “fight or flight” state (sympathetic dominant), your HRV is decreased. Researchers have started to use HRV as a marker for resilience and behavioral flexibility. Monitoring your HRV allows you to track how your nervous system is reacting to your environment, emotions, thoughts, and feelings.

Furthermore, greater HRV is associated with increased self-regulatory strength and capacity, or the ability to control your thoughts, emotions, and behavior. Several health problems today stem from failures of self-regulation. For example, obesity can be the result of a failure to inhibit the impulse to eat. Self-regulatory efforts and their likelihood of failure are reflected in our HRV. Studies have revealed that individuals who give in to temptations have lower HRV versus those that resist.

Also, habitual aerobic exercise appears to play a role in the maintenance of augmented HRV. Athletes tend to have increased HRV after significant improvements in aerobic fitness. HRV can improve as you incorporate more mindfulness, meditation, sleep, and physical activity into your life. The ultimate goal is to spend more time in the parasympathetic state so that your HRV is optimized.

At Terrain Health, we use a wearable device called the Oura Ring, that connects to a smartphone app, to measure HRV among other physiological parameters, as well as study sleep patterns in the context of impacting health. This device recently gained notoriety after the NBA requested it’s players to wear the ring amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Oura Ring can measure temperature, pulse, respiratory rate, and physiological data that might be able to detect if someone has COVID-19, even if they are pre-symptomatic.

For more information on how we can help you get your Oura Ring, and analyze these parameters that not only impact health but optimize performance and longevity, please feel free to call or email us for a free consultation.