Heart Rate Variability is one of the best kept secrets for managing stress.
By Dr. Robin Rose & Thea Petta
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a marker of resilience and behavioral flexibility. What is the health impact of a stressful day? Will you perform well during your run or bike ride tomorrow? Is there anything you can do today to improve your ability to have a better tomorrow? HRV may be the missing link or give you important data that can help you answer these questions.
HRV is the variation in the time between each heartbeat. This is controlled by your Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). This is the primitive part of our nervous system, and works regardless of our desire and regulates blood pressure, breathing, heart rate, and digestion.
The brain is always processing information in a region called the hypothalamus. Through the ANS, the hypothalamus signals the rest of our body to either stimulate or relax certain functions.
It reacts to everything including a poor night’s sleep, bad interactions with people, exciting news, even a delicious meal you had for dinner.
Our bodies are constantly handling all types of stimuli without interruption in our activities of daily living. However, when we have persistent instigators such as stress, poor sleep, an unhealthy diet, dysfunctional relationships, social isolation, lack of exercise, etc, the balance gets interrupted which leads to overdrive in our fight or flight response.
So you ask- why should you check your HRV? It is a noninvasive method to identify these ANS imbalances. If a person is engaging their Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) more it will lead to an increase in our fight or flight response and the variation between heartbeats will be low. If a person is engaging their Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) they will live more in the relaxed state and in turn, their variation between heartbeats will be high. The healthier your ANS is, the faster you are able to switch gears, showing more resilience and flexibility.
Chronically low HRV can lead to worsening depression and anxiety, and is associated with increased cardiovascular disease (CVD), and increased risk of death. Whereas, people with a consistently high HRV have greater cardiovascular fitness, and are more resilient to stress.
HRV provides personal feedback about your lifestyle, and can help motivate those who are considering taking steps towards a healthier lifestyle. HRV is an actionable measure that tracks how your nervous system is reacting to not only the environment, but also to your emotions, thoughts and feelings.
You should check your HRV in the morning after you wake up, and a few times per week. You can begin to track for changes as you incorporate healthier interventions. No one can avoid stress, but we can respond to stress in healthier ways. Look at HRV as a preventative tool, a visual insight of the most primitive part of your brain.
HRV is truly a powerful tool to achieve maximum health and happiness. Learn how to self regulate your HRV today when you become a member of the Terrain Health community.