It is truly amazing what we can track nowadays when it comes to our health. We can track our blood sugar, blood pressure, weight, number of steps we get each day, heart rate, and more! Heart variability is one of the newer markers of health that researchers are going crazy over and for good reason. Heart variability is a marker for behavioral flexibility and resilience.

Each of the markers listed above are excellent for keeping track of your health. Stress is a major driver for all of them. Your heart rate variability (HRV) is a good indicator as to how your body deals with different kinds of stress.

What is heart rate variability?

Heart rate variability measure the changes in time between each heartbeat. Our autonomic nervous system (ANS) controls the variation. Our ANS controls our breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, and digestion. It is responsible for a lot! If we are in constant fight-or-flight mode or metaphorically speaking being chased by a bear, then our heart rate variability will not be healthy. It will have less resilience to bounce back to a steady rhythm.

There are many things that can affect our nervous system response including things like poor diet, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, anxiety, and the list goes on. Too much good stress or eustress is also not good because your body and brain recognize it as stress on the body. The last thing we want is our body to be in constant overdrive.

Why is heart rate variability important?

Heart rate variability is important to check because it can give you information about how your body responds to different kinds of stressors so that you can make informed decisions about how to structure your day or week. You might need more rest some weeks, and other weeks you might be able to crush it at the gym. Basically, if you are constantly being chased by that bear, your HRV will be low. If you are in more of a relaxed state, your HRV will be high. The goal is to be able to go from a high stress situation to a relaxed state easily. A healthy HRV absolutely contributes to longevity.

How do I improve my heart rate variability?

The best things you can do to improve your heart rate variability are to ensure that you are get quality sleep, eat a nutrient dense and balanced diet, engage in appropriate exercise for you, connect with others who are not toxic, manage stress in a healthy way, and incorporate self-care every week.

Which heart rate monitor should I buy?

This is a good question! There are a lot of monitors and apps to choose from these days. One of the best ways to test your heart rate is by wearing a chest strap and then using an app to track its variability. Some popular chest straps are Wahoo and Polar, and then many people use the Elite HRV app to track. Others like to use their Apple Watch. More recently, I have seen many influencers who swear by the Oura Ring which you can wear on your finger that you sync with its app. A ring is much more comfortable to wear especially at night. None of these are 100% accurate, but they are close! Figure out which one works for you and fits in your budget.

Knowledge is power. Knowing your heart rate variability is just another way to understand how you are reacting to and managing your stress. Stress is inevitable. The goal of knowing your HRV is to hopefully provoke behavior changes that will make it so that it is high most of the time. I recommend tracking first thing in the morning and then a few times a week. We definitely don’t want your heart rate variability to become a stressor in your life! It is very interesting to see how it changes as you implement changes!

If you are already tracking your heart rate variability and need help implementing changes or simply want to change some of your behaviors, I would love to work with you! You can book an appointment here.

Be well,

Stephanie Watson