Heart Rate Variability Can Improve Your Health and Fitness

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) can be a game changer for you. 

With just a few minutes each day,  you can gain some incredibly important information about your health and fitness. 

Let’s first understand what HRV is. Then we can learn how to use it to improve our performance and health.

What is HRV?

In the simplest terms, HRV is a measure of your current state of resilience and adaptability.

More specifically, HRV is a measurement of the time intervals between heart beats, measured in milliseconds. 

The heart does not beat in perfect rhythm, but instead beats with tiny variations between each beat. 

When we’re under stress, these variations between beats become smaller and smaller, indicating that we’re in a sympathetic (fight or flight) stress state.

When you’re in a fully relaxed state, the variation between beats becomes larger, indicating a parasympathetic dominant state.

Thus, a higher HRV correlates to recovery and adaptability, and a lower HRV signifies a lack of recovery and stress.

How Do You Meausre Heart Rate Variability?

heart rate variability tracking

In order to analyze your own HRV, you must establish a baseline for yourself. This means taking daily measurements to establish that baseline so you have something to compare to.

There are several Apps that do this for you, such as Elite HRV (free) and Morpheus. All you need is 3 minutes of your time and a chest strap heart rate monitor.

I use the Polar H10, and it is fantastic and very accurate for both workouts and measuring heart rate variability.

Most importantly, you MUST take your daily measurement as soon as you wake up each day, and in the same position. It can be laying in bed, or sitting back in a chair… as long as you use the same position each time.

Taking the measurement right after sleeping is ideal, as you can get a snapshot into your current state, minus any new stress, caffeine or other outside influences. It’s okay to use the bathroom and drink some water first.

How Heart Rate Variability Can Improve Your Workouts.

heart rate variability for workouts

Several studies have looked at working out based on heart rate variability scores vs just following a training program.

The results indicate that decreasing workout intensity when HRV is low, and training with more intensity when HRV is high results in improved performance (improved adaptation to the training).

Trying to push your body when it’s in an over-stressed state is counterproductive. If you notice your HRV score is trending low, that means your body is struggling to deal with stress. You can then take a rest day, do some light cardio, or use relaxation techniques. That way, you can get your body back into an optimal state.

Heart Rate Variability and Your Health

Studies have linked Low HRV to several different diseases, including; depression, heart attacks, and increased risk of death. It’s important to realize that HRV is not the Cause of these issues. It is a symptom of underlying issues taking place in the body and mind.

Take control of your health by learning to better manage stress. Use tools such as meditation, cardiovascular workouts and HRV monitoring. This can have a dramatic impact on improving your overall health and resilience to stress.

Nutrition Affects HRV

nutrition and HRV

Studies have begun looking into how what we eat affects our heart rate variability and overall risk of disease over the course of our lives.

These studies are finding that what we eat has a very big impact on heart rate variability. That should tell you that your ability to handle stress and remain resilient has a lot to do with what you eat.

Stick to whole foods and natural ingredients. Eat fruits and vegetables and avoid the processed garbage on most shelves. This will allow your body to be more resilient in fighting off diseases like cancer and heart disease.

How Do You Improve Your Heart Rate Variability?

Studies have shown that while HRV is genetically influenced, it can be improved.

There are two primary ways you can go about increasing your heart rate variability:

1. Cardiovascular Training

cardio HRV

Light to moderate cardiovascular training can improve the strength, size, function and efficiency of your heart. This can result in a lower resting heart rate, which is itself a huge indicator of health and fitness.

Your heart will be stronger and under less stress. This means your body will be better able to deal with both physical demands and psychological stressors. The result being increased heart rate variability, improved energy and a host of other benefits.

The best way to get these adaptations in the heart is to perform cardiac output workouts, meaning:

  • 30 – 90 Minutes of Light to Moderate cardiovascular training.
  • Maintain a heart rate between 130-150.
  • Use jogging or any cardio machine, circuit training, anything that elevates your heart rate for at least 30 minutes.
  • perform 3-6 sessions per week, depending on your fitness level.

Yoga and other relaxation techniques

yoga improves heart rate variability

Yoga has been shown by research to lower resting heart rate. It does so by training the mind to relax, nudging the body into a parasympathetic state.

HRV is a measure of the health of your parasympathetic nervous system, and of the balance between stress and resilience.

Yoga can improve heart rate variability by teaching the body to be more resilient.

Practicing Yoga, or other relaxation methods regularly can reduce stress and help flip the switch from stress mode to recovery mode.

If you’re stuck at home, check out Yogadownload below for awesome yoga sessions you can do from anywhere.

Use Both Methods to Achieve Maximum Health and Fitness Benefits

The best way to improve HRV and give a huge boost to your health and fitness levels is to improve both your cardiovascular fitness AND your ability to relax and deal with stress.

This holistic approach will result in a stronger, more resilient body and mind. It will only naturally be reflected by improved HRV scores, which will tell you that you’re doing something right.

All About Stress

It’s really important to understand that “stress” can come at us from many angles. Stress is any stimulus that causes a sympathetic response from the nervous system.

Work stress, physical stress, relationship stress. Lack of sleep and poor nutrition. Any life stress we encounter can push the body into a sympathetic stress state.

Being in a constant state of stress, be it from too much high intensity training or from life stress, or both.. results in the overproduction of stress hormones by the body. This keeps us in a revved up state until the parasympathetic system can put the brakes on and nudge us into recovery and relaxation.

The trick is in being able to recognize this and take action to make it happen faster. That is the real value of tracking your Heart rate variability.

The True Value of Tracking Your Heart Rate Variability

The real value in keeping track of your HRV is in identifying trends in your data. After tracking your HRV for several weeks and months, you’ll notice that it is either:

  • Trending upwards, indicating improved fitness and ability to handle stress
  • Trending downwards, possibly indicating that you are over-training or just plain over-stressing.
  • Remaining consistent, indicating you may want to work out a little harder to stimulate cardiovascular improvements.

Conclusion

Using free apps that are readily available on your phone, such as Elite HRV, you can track your heart rate variability, sleep, weight, and other variables to get some really great insight into which way your health and fitness are trending.

Improving your cardiovascular fitness and learning to better deal with stress by practicing Yoga and other relaxation techniques can have a dramatic impact on your health. Take control of your health and fitness and give up 3 minutes every day to track your HRV.

It’s your body, your mind, your responsibility. The knowledge is out there, now it’s on you to make it happen.

As always, I hope this article helps you get a little closer to that best version of YOU!

*Note: This article contains affiliate links. Anything purchased comes at no additional cost to you.

Mike (Supastrong)
Mike (Supastrong)

Bioforce Certified Conditioning Coach and personal trainer. I’ve run boot camps and served as the wellness coordinator for a fortune 500 company. Currently a Federal Agent in San Diego, CA, and an Infantryman in the Army Reserve.

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About SupaStrong 50 Articles
Bioforce Certified Conditioning coach, Trainer. Federal Law Enforcement Agent, Army Reserve Infantryman. Husband, Father, Brother, Son, Friend.

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[…] Recovery Training will help nudge the body into a parasympathetic recovery mode. You can best track this by monitoring your HRV, which I explain in this article: https://supastrong.net/2020/01/22/tracking-your-heart-rate-variability-can-change-your-life/ […]

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[…] HRV in the low 80’s and up (see: Heart Rate Variability) […]

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[…] I cover this topic thoroughly in my article “Tracking Your Heart Rate Variability can Change Your Life.” […]