Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a measure of the variations in time (milliseconds) in between each heart beat. The variations are a result of minute changes in your Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), and they can provide valuable insights into various areas of your heath.
The ANS is made up of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the fight of flight response which kicks in in moments of stress or excitement. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the relaxation response, and HRV can show you how well you're balanced between the two systems.
The readings can act as precursors to anxiety, stress, panic and even illness. Or they can be indicators of cardiovascular fitness and provide useful personal feedback about your lifestyle.
If your system is in more "fight-or-flight" mode, the variation between each heartbeats tends to be low. If you're in a more relaxed state, the variation between heart beats is high. Research continues to show a relationship between low HRV and mental health issues, as well as an increased risk of death and cardiovascular disease.
How do you measure it?
The best way to track your HRV is by way of a wearable such as the Oura Ring or Apple Watch. The readings will be recorded straight into your personal Dashboard, and you can correlate various health and lifestyle factors to the readings. If you're a Gyroscope Coach member, then your personal coach can advise on potential lifestyle changes that may improve your score, if needed. If you’re a Track, Score or XRAY user, then you implement positive lifestyle changes and see how it affects your data.
How do you interpret it?
It's important to understand that HRV effects no elements of your lifestyle, rather it is a result of variables in your day to day life and overall health.
It's also important to not be too worried if readings are sometimes irregular, or even low, as we'll go into now.
Higher HRV readings tend to occur during REM sleep, while lower HRV values tend to occur when you're in deep sleep. The more optimal your sleep habits then the better you drift through the natural sleep cycles, which will positively affect your HRV score, as well as almost every aspect of your life. Sleep is pivotal to physical and mental health and our Health Academy insights, Health Labs experiments or your Gyroscope coach can help improve this if needed.
Higher-than-baseline HRV levels tend to be signs of good recovery and fitness level, but may also be the result of:
- A much needed day of rest
- A cool bedroom at night
- Mindful activities like hiking or yoga
- Meditation or mindfulness
Lower-than-baseline readings are usually a sign of strain on the body, which could be a result of:
- A late night meal or workout
- Sleeping in a hot room
- Jet lag
- Inconsistent sleep patterns
Finally, while high HRV is generally a good thing, if your levels are considerably higher than baseline and you're not partaking in exercise too regularly, this can also be an indication of low ANS stimulation, which may be a sign that it's time to push yourself a bit more and build up cardiovascular fitness - another thing our Academy, Labs or coaches can help you with!
If you're worried about your readings, don't be! Exercise, mindfulness meditation, breathwork and better sleep habits can turn things around and both a stronger mind and stronger body will produce long lasting benefits to HRV and heart health in general.