The health and fitness world is constantly evolving and with it, so too are the metrics and things that we use as guidelines for achieving a healthy lifestyle. Recently, the emerging popularity of HRV has many people asking questions like, what is HRV? How do I track it? Most importantly, why is it important to my health? In this post, we will explore what HRV is and why it is important for your overall health.
HRV, or Heart Rate Variability, is a measurement of the variation in time in between heartbeats. This cadence is controlled by our autonomic nervous system, or ANS. Like the many other things controlled by our ANS, our HRV is regulated automatically based on the biochemical signals from our brain. The ANS has two subcategories, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system gives our body the “fight or flight” signal and the parasympathetic system signals our bodies to enter relaxation and recovery mode. The ANS is in constant flux trying to achieve equilibrium. HRV, is the signifier for how well our ANS is achieving balance in our bodies.
The scale of HRV is a point system that ranges between 20 and 200 milliseconds. For most people, activity level and sleep have the largest impacts on HRV score. Generally, people with a higher HRV tend to be more physically active, with a much higher threshold for processing stress. Juxtaposed to someone with a lower HRV, who likely has a more sedentary lifestyle, does not get restful sleep and is under constant higher levels of stress.
When it comes to your overall health and fitness, HRV is becoming more widely accepted as a means of tracking your body’s status. It can indicate overtraining or it can guide our programming such that we are working towards goals of longevity or resilience instead of simply an aesthetic-based goal. It is good to understand how our bodies regulate themselves, and now with HRV, we have a way to attribute a score to it.