Earlier this year, I discussed my first pass thoughts about Whoop and how the tracker is helping me improve my overall fitness by tracking my strain and recovery. Well, after a few months using it, I wanted to share a note on the main OKR that Whoop is tracking: the heart rate variability. I find it an excellent way to track well-being. In the note below, we’re discussing one more time what is heart rate variability and I am also reproducing a post from Whoop on their blog “the locker”, on ways to improve your HRV. It’s a good read!
What is HRV?
HRV is simply a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat. This variation is controlled by a part of the nervous system called the autonomic nervous system (ANS). It works regardless of our desire and regulates, among other things, our heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and digestion. The ANS is subdivided into two large components, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the fight-or-flight mechanism and the relaxation response.
The brain is constantly processing information in a region called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus, through the ANS, sends signals to the rest of the body either to stimulate or to relax different functions. It responds not only to a poor night of sleep, or that sour interaction with someone, but also to the exciting news, or to that a delicious healthy meal. Our body handles all kinds of stimuli and life goes on. However, if we have persistent instigators such as stress, poor sleep, unhealthy diet, dysfunctional relationships, isolation or solitude, and lack of exercise, this balance may be disrupted, and your fight-or-flight response can shift into overdrive.
Why check heart rate variability?
HRV is an interesting and noninvasive way to identify these ANS imbalances. If a person’s system is in more of a fight-or-flight mode, the variation between subsequent heartbeats is low. If one is in a more relaxed state, the variation between beats is high. In other words, the healthier the ANS the faster we are able to switch gears, showing more resilience and flexibility. Over the past few decades, research has shown a relationship between low HRV and worsening depression or anxiety. A low HRV is even associated with an increased risk of death and cardiovascular disease.
People who have a high HRV may have greater cardiovascular fitness and be more resilient to stress. HRV may also provide personal feedback about lifestyle choices and help motivate those who are considering taking steps toward a healthier life. It is fascinating to see how HRV changes as we incorporate more mindfulness, meditation, sleep, and especially physical activity into our lives. For those who love data and numbers, this can be a nice way to track how your nervous system is reacting not only to the environment, but also to your emotions, thoughts, and feelings.
10 Ways to Improve Heart Rate Variability
(by Mark Van Deusen, extracts reproduced from the Whoop Blog Here)
Healthy behaviors like exercise, hydration and proper nutrition, avoiding alcohol, and getting good quality sleep will all have a positive impact on your heart rate variability. Below we’ll take a deeper dive into each of these, as well as detail several other ways to boost your HRV.
1. Exercise & Train Appropriately. Studies show that regular exercise is one of the best methods for improving your heart rate variability. However, for serious athletes it is also important to avoid overtraining. Strenuous activity reduces HRV in the short term, so it is essential not to consistently take on too much strain without giving your body adequate time to recover. Here’s a more detailed explanation of intelligent HRV training.
2. Good Nutrition at the Right Times. It’s no surprise that a smart and healthy diet will benefit your HRV, but something many of us may not realize is that the timing of your food intake can affect it as well. Your body functions better when it knows what’s coming and regular eating patterns help maintain your circadian rhythm. Additionally, not eating close to bedtime (within 3-4 hours) will improve the quality of your sleep by allowing your body to focus on other restorative processes instead of digestion.
3. Hydrate. Your level of hydration determines the volume of your blood, and the more liquid you have in your system the easier it is for blood to circulate and deliver oxygen and nutrients to your body. Drinking close to an ounce of water per each pound that you weigh is a good daily goal. On average, when WHOOP members log that they are sufficiently hydrated their HRV increases by 3 milliseconds.
4. Don’t Drink Alcohol. We’ve found that when WHOOP members report consuming alcohol, their HRV drops by an average of 22 milliseconds the next day. Additionally, our research has discovered that the lingering effects of alcohol in your system may continue to suppress your heart rate variability for 4-5 days.
5. Sleep Well & Consistently. Getting all the sleep your body needs is a great start, but equally as important is making an effort to go to sleep and wake up at regular times each day. Sleep consistency will boost your HRV by helping to sustain your circadian rhythm, and also enables you to spend more time in REM and deep sleep.
6. Natural Light Exposure. Going outside in the sunlight after waking up in the morning and watching the sky change from light to dark in the evening trigger biological processes involved with regulating sleep/wake times (see sleep consistency above), energy levels and hormone production. This will also improve alertness, mood and vitamin D production.
7. Cold Thermogenesis. Exposing your body to cold temperatures for brief periods of time (cold showers, ice baths, etc.) will stimulate the vagus nerve, which activates the parasympathetic branch of your autonomic nervous system and controls heart rate variability.
8. Intentional Breathing. Studies indicate that slow, controlled breathing techniques can positively impact your HRV. They will also help to combat stress, which has been shown to inhibit heart rate variability. Learn more here about breathing methods and how they work.
9. Mindfulness & Meditation. Anecdotally, many WHOOP members have reported that practicing mindfulness and/or meditation has led to improvements in HRV. As with slow breathing techniques, both will help you reduce stress. In fact, even dedicating just one minute per day to mindfulness exercises can have real benefits.
10. Gratitude Journaling. The act of writing down things you’re thankful for each day can elicit a corresponding uptick in heart rate variability. It is also linked to lower blood pressure and decreases in stress hormones. For more on this, take a look at “Self-Rule” Choices to Increase your HRV and Immunity.
@philippemora > I come from the future.
I work and I workout. Always be kind and passionate.
Weights, Track, music, PLACEs. Always be kind and passionate.