If you have been to the office, part of your initial exam included the measure of your Heart Rate Variability (HRV). This article is to help you better understand what HRV is, why it is important and how you can work on improving it.
Your HRV is the variation of your heart beat to beat intervals - contrary to what we might think the heart does not beat like a metronome but rather in varied pattern. This means that there are varying lengths separating each pulse (fractions of a second).
In general, it is better for your heart rate to be more variable meaning that your nervous system is better able to adapt. We want our heart rate to go high when we need it to but also to lower for rest and recovery.
A higher HRV usually suggests a relaxed, low stressed nervous system while a lower HRV indicates that your body needs more rest, recovery and sleep. HRV is a strong diagnostic marker for general health and the resiliency of your nervous system.
There has been a lot of research looking at ways to increase your HRV. Keep in mind that when we are talking about holistic health, there is no silver bullet that will magically increase your health. It is usually a combination of multiple things you do that accumulate over time.
The Fundamentals to Health
These 4 are the pillars of health that I touch on frequently. In general the more you keep these 4 fundamentals in check, the less stress you will experience in your body and the healthy your nervous system will be.
In true expression of health, things are in balance in our body. Make sure that these are in check and then add the suggestions from this article to help increase your HRV.
Eating clean - stick to whole foods, earn your carbohydrates, eat to fuel your body.
Moving well - exercise regularly, move often
Be happy - get grounded in your values, set goals, find joy in your life
Get adjusted regularly - keep your spine moving and functioning optimally.
Ways to Improve Heart Rate Variability
Rest. Stressors (including exercise) will raise our HRV. Even though exercise is good for us, it throws our body out of homeostasis (aka balance) which will bias our nervous system into that fight or flight response and we must rest in order to restore our HRV. Reading is good example of how to rest.
Drink Green Tea. Studies have shown this can help lower HRV because of its both calming and stimulating properties.
Breathe Deep and Slow. Slow breathing consistently raises HRV. This stimulates the Vagus Nerve which has been linked to calming the nervous system.
Try Yoga. Going through different poses, stretching and listen to relaxing music has been linked to increasing HRV. Yoga is a great way to calm the mind and the body.
Don’t Procrastinate. In studies with college students, the more anxious and unprepared you are for a test the more it will decrease your HRV. This can apply to work and life.
Don’t Work Too Much or Commute Too Far. Long work and commuting limits you from seeing friends and family, doing things you enjoy and getting adequate sleep. Try active commuting (i.e. walking, train, biking) as it may increase resilience to stress and reduce stress reactivity (these increase HRV).
Find a Job that Gives you Enough Reward for the Work You Put Into It. It would be great if we could all have jobs that we love and deeply care about. However, if we can find something that gives back to us as much as we put in, our HRV will benefit. One study showed that people who felt they got sufficient reward for the work they put in had higher HRV.
Meditate. Nearly every type of meditation has the potential to increase your HRV amongst other positive benefits for your health. Try a guided meditation app, YouTube, Podcasts, books etc.
Practice Forgiveness. A study found that when participants forgave someone for their transgressions it increased their HRV. This was done only in their head and they did not need to physically contact the person they were forgiving.
Get Outside into Nature. Get into forest where you are covered in trees and only natural organic matter.
Take Fish Oil., Several studies have shown that taking Omega-3 supplements can increase HRV specifically when they come from fish sources.
Listen to the Calming Music. Music can have a powerful effect on our nervous system. Playing something calming and soothing will help relax your body.
Pregnant Moms: Start Exercising. Exercising during pregnancy may increases fetal HRV and have benefits that remain in the infant after birth, into childhood and even into adulthood.
There is not one solution that will fit everyone. Take a few of these recommendations and start to implement them as often as you can throughout the day. This, along with your regular adjustments and the fundamental pillars to health will help your body achieve optimal health and wellness.
Dr. Alfredo is an health enthusiast who’s goal is to help people and families live healthier, happier lives. My philosophy on health is simple - our body’s have the amazing ability and potential to self-adapt, self-regulate and THRIVE in this world.