We all know that exercise is the key to health and fitness, but it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that exercise is a stimulant and stressor and that progress takes place during recovery after exercise†
There are many factors that affect our ability to recover from and improve from exercise, including adequate sleep, breathing patterns, hydration, nutrition, and mental ability to relax to name a few.
Measuring your heart rate variability (HRV) is an accurate and easy way to check your recovery status. HRV refers to the fact that the time between each heartbeat changes continuously! The image above shows the change in time between each heartbeat on an electrocardiogram. While the time between each heartbeat always varies, sometimes your heart rate — expressed in beats per minute — can be stable.
For example, an average heart rate of 60 beats per minute (bpm) does not mean that the interval between each heartbeat is exactly 1.0 sec, but can fluctuate/vary from 0.5 sec to 2.0 sec. During exercise, HRV decreases as heart rate and exercise intensity increase. HRV also decreases during periods of mental stress.
As a general rule of thumb, we want to see HIGHER heart rate variability. A higher HRV indicates that your body is in a highly responsive state and can quickly adapt to changes and challenges to optimize homeostasis. Homeostasis refers to the need for your body to maintain a consistent internal environment in order to function properly so that your body must constantly adapt to changes such as changes in air temperature, changes in muscle activity, changes in light level, etc.
HRV is regulated by the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which regulates the function of our internal organs such as heart, lungs, intestines, level of arterial tension, digestion, etc. The autonomic nervous system consists of two parts: sympathetic and parasympathetic.
The sympathetic nervous system is the “fight or flight” system, while the parasympathetic nervous system is often thought of as the “rest and digestion system”. In many cases, these systems have “opposite” actions, such as the sympathetic system turning off digestion and the parasympathetic system turning on digestion.
Parasympathetic activity decreases heart rate and increases HRV while sympathetic activity increases heart rate and decreases HRV. Recovery is all about increased parasympathetic activity† When your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) is active for a long time, you cannot recover from stress and sooner or later you will start to experience symptoms and illness. This is what being stressed is all about!
Measurement of HRV
Measuring HRV allows you to know how your body is reacting and adapting to all the stressors in your life. By measuring HRV every morning when you wake up before you get up or eat or drink anything, you can track your recovery status very accurately. There are several easy-to-use devices and apps available to measure your HRV:
• Fitbit – in the Sense, Versa 2 and 3, Charge 4, Inspire 2 and Luxe models – cheaper than many other options
• Oura Ring – www.ouraring.com – very popular and one of the best available and simple ring
• http://www.elitehrv.com/ – gold standard device for HRV!
By looking at your HRV daily, you can quickly see patterns and discover how different workouts, alcohol intake, stress and caffeine affect your recovery. You will also see how your HRV score directly correlates with the quality of sleep. If you get a good night’s sleep, you will see that reflected in an improved HRV!
This post How Heart Rate Variability can Help Optimize Recovery, Sleep and Results! was original published at “http://workoutanytime.blogspot.com/2022/03/how-heart-rate-variability-can-help.html”