What is HRV and Why Does it Matter?

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Heart Rate Variability (HRV) measures the rate of change in heart rate over time [2]. Having high HRV is a good thing. It means that your body can quickly adapt and recover from stress.

When we encounter stress in our environment, our heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure should go up so we can quickly respond to a threat [1,2]. Similarly, when we are calm and not in the presence of danger, our heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure should be at comfortable resting rate. This is the body’s way of maintaining balance between thriving and surviving over time.

Having consistently low HRV indicates that your body isn’t adapting to or recovering well from stress. This could mean that you aren’t sleeping well, you’ve exhausted your body, or that you are getting sick. Those of us with consistently low HRV have a higher likelihood of developing insomnia, chronic pain, cardiovascular illness, and anxiety-related disorders.

This is because chronic stress disrupts the normal balance of the nervous system by signaling to the body that we are constantly under threat, increasing fight-or-flight activity in the body resulting in elevated heart rate and blood pressure, quick, shallow breathing, and low HRV.High HRV is associated with improved focus, calm, performance (athletic and otherwise), breathing, pain tolerance, blood pressure, and resilience [2].

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is one of the most reliable, non-invasive ways to monitor the body’s balance between the parasympathetic (as measured by high HRV, low respiratory rate, and low heart rate) and the sympathetic (as measured by low HRV, elevated heart and respiratory rates, and high blood pressure) systems [1,2]. 

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