Written by: Logan Kwasnicka PA-C IFMCP, Co-Founder of Practical Healing
Many of us associate the month of February with roses, love and hearts. This February, I’m thinking about hearts in a completely different way – Heart Rate Variability.
Heart Rate Variability, also known as HRV, is the natural variation that occurs in the time between your heart beats. This beat-to-beat variation is a result of your nervous system – specifically your autonomic nervous system (ANS) which is responsible for regulating involuntary processes of the body. Two branches of the autonomic nervous system – your sympathetic (“fight or flight”) and parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) compete with each other to signal your heart to beat faster, or slower. Because of this ongoing competition – we naturally have variation in heart rate, and the time between each beat. To put it simply, HRV is a marker of your body’s ability to adapt to stressors/stimuli. Based on the available evidence at this time, we know that HRV below a certain threshold is associated with less favorable health outcomes.
HRV is highly individualized and varies greatly from person to person based on age, sex, health status and physical fitness level. Comparing one’s HRV to another’s doesn’t seem to be all that useful. Moreso, monitoring your own HRV response to behaviors can help you make informed decisions around your lifestyle choices. I have been experimenting with HRV monitoring for about a month, and so far I have learned a few things that seem to improve my HRV and some that absolutely do the opposite. I’ve noted improvement in HRV with adequate hydration, eating at consistent times, avoiding meals 3 hours before bedtime, avoiding sugar, reading before bed instead of catching up on emails or instagram (shocker!), floatation therapy sessions, and interestingly the most impactful was a restorative yoga class. On the flip side, things that have notably worsened my HRV are inadequate sleep, alcohol, overtraining without adequate recovery, excess caffeine and stress. There are a few devices on the market now that measure HRV – Sarah and I have been using WHOOP for the past 6 weeks and are both enjoying the meaningful feedback from the device.
You do not necessarily need to measure your HRV in order to implement strategies to improve this important marker. Most of the foundational lifestyle interventions that we recommend in our practice every day will positively impact HRV – circadian rhythm regulation, improving nutrition, maintaining hydration, stress mitigation techniques like meditation and yoga, and improving physical fitness. One intervention I am particularly excited about is a tool/technique called HeartMath. We are so lucky to have a certified HeartMath professional in our midst here at Practical Healing – Kevin Heine. Kevin is not only an exercise physiologist and board certified health coach but also an all around incredible human being and we are so happy to have him as a resource. Kevin will be offering a Workshop at Marigold on February 23rd from 1-2 PM for anyone who is interested in learning more about HRV and HeartMath as an effective tool to improve this important marker of health and fitness. If you are interested in attending this workshop please register HERE.
Show your heart a little love this month by taking steps to improve HRV. Here are additional resources if you’d like to learn more: