Heart rate variability (HRV) measures the time difference or variation in between heartbeats. It is controlled by the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which has sympathetic and parasympathetic branches. While the sympathetic branch gives us the fight or flight ability to perform, act and react, the parasympathetic branch allows us to rest and digest after the fight is done. Both these systems are balanced in a healthy body.
What does high or low HRV indicate?
Our hearts don’t beat at exact intervals; time between beats changes as per the level of activity. Typically, the heart rate will be more when you exercise and less when you are resting.
So a healthy person’s body will switch between the fight and rest modes continually depending on the level of activity at the moment. This leads to more variation in the heartbeat intervals = higher HRV.
On the other hand, if the HRV is low, it indicates that the balance between stimulation and relaxation of bodily functions is disrupted. Simply put, the fight mode works overtime, while the rest mode is deactivated.
Why is it essential to monitor HRV?
HRV determines the variations between heartbeats, and in turn, helps ascertain any ANS imbalances. If someone is always anxious, stressed or depressed, their ANS balance goes for a toss, keeping them in a constant fight or flight mode. Monitoring your HRV helps you understand your levels of anxiety and stress, and take the right steps to control them. Low HRV, if not monitored and managed early, can lead to high levels of stress can increase your risk for cardiovascular disease and a host of other disorders. High HRV is associated with a healthy body and mind, indicating that an individual is in a more relaxed state.
Measuring and monitoring HRV allows us to understand the response of our body to the environments and the mental states we are experiencing. It can also improve our performance in difficult and challenging situations, by not completely eliminating stress but being aware of its effects on your body in real time, thus enabling you to manage it better.
It is easy to see why HRV has become a trending topic in the recent past, especially in the world of health, fitness and sports. Since it gives you a greater insight into your brain and body functions, it helps you take your health into your own hands.