Why Heartrate Variability is Important to Health, Well-Being and Performance

Heart-Rate Variability, Health, and Well-Being

Many of you are familiar with the measurement of your heart rate, whether by a physician or measuring your own through wrist-worn or chest strap devices or other methods.   How many of you are familiar with heart-rate variability or HRV and its importance in human performance, including measuring stress levels, overtraining or undertraining, and tying into resilience?

HRV is a measure of the acceleration and deceleration of the heart rate and a reflection of autonomic nervous system function. When you inhale, your heart rate speeds up, and when you exhale, your heart rate slows down. Most of us refer to heart rate as thought it’s a constant – it’s not.  In fact, it's fluctuation is a reflection of your own adaptability and health!

Your resting heart rate, for example, is basically an average of your heart increasing and decreasing it’s beat-to-beat rhythms.   This toggling between speeding up and slowing down, from the cardio-respiratory standpoint, is known as respiratory sinus arrhtymia or RSA.  In fact, RSA is directly proportional to HRV and is considered a window to autonomic regulation and the innervation of the cardiac muscle through the vagus nerve.

Got all that? Here’s the thing…the reason this is relevant to you is that your HRV, day-to-day and moment-to-moment, will give you a lense through which to view your health and well-being, stress responses, anxiety and depression, and pretty clear portal to assessing what your embodied state is at a given point in time. Because RSA shows the effects of focused and engaged or purposeful breathing as much as it does default (unaware) breathing, we want to show you how taking conscious control of breathing will widen and deepen your heart-rate variability, which is a reflection of excellent stress management.

Those with wider/deeper HRV tend to be better at managing stress and have greater resilience than those who don’t. People with narrow HRV tend to breathe more shallowly and will often demonstrate a greater stress response, lower resilience, and poorer health than those with greater HRV. Usually, with lower HRV, people tend to have more negative emotions and have been shown to exhibit more of the diseases and issues associated with inflammatory responses, from heart diseases to diabetes to dementia. Oh, and by the way, those with lower HRV seem to be more likely to show up with post-traumatic stress disorder, as evidenced by a five-year study of Marines returning from deployment.

The upshot? Learn to manage your HRV! How do you do that? In EVENPULSE training, we teach you a variety of methods to manage your autonomic nervous system, which will help you regulate your HRV.

When we train organizations and teams, we often provide small groups with a capability for HRV measurement, with resilience sustainers on each team helping personnel to practice the skills we’ve taught as well as to measure HRV over time. This data will helps our trainees become more stress-proof, more resilient, and healthier overall. Through this portal, you will have a greater understanding of your health, well-being, stress levels, and self-regulation.  As you learn skills and tools to regulate your HRV, you will develop a greater capacity to impact your health and well-being in positive ways and master the elusive stress response!