This story is part Health in numbersCNET’s deep dive into how we quantify health.
Thanks to connected watches like the apple watch and fitness trackers such as the Fitbitit’s easier than ever to keep an eye on yourself health indicators at home. With just a glance at your wrist, you can track your heart rate, pulse, and the number of steps you’ve taken in a day. But there’s one important health metric that a lot of people aren’t tracking yet: heart rate variability. This metric, also known as HRV, can provide insight into your overall health, stress, fitness level, and more.
Your HRV is the time between your heartbeats. And while that might not sound deep, it’s actually a big metric if you know how to find it. Contrary to heartbeat or pulse, it’s a little trickier to measure because not all wearables offer it.
One of the few wearables that measures HRV, the Whoop Tracker uses it and several other metrics to help you know if you’ve recovered enough from your last workout to train again. These detailed measurements are one of the reasons professional athletes and endurance trainers are big fans of the product. In fact, I never really heard of HRV until I checked out the Whoop group on the company’s site.
Like any other measure that fitness tracker give you, HRV is kind of useless unless you understand what it means and know how to use it to improve your health and fitness. Keep reading to learn more about what HRV is, how to measure it, and how it can help you optimize your health.
What is heart rate variability?
“HRV is the time between each heartbeat, which is controlled by the autonomic nervous system,” certified personal trainer Holly Roser told CNET. The autonomic nervous system is basically your body’s stress or nervous system regulator and contains two key parts: parasympathetic and sympathetic.
The nervous system is so important because it’s what regulates your body’s involuntary systems like heart rate, digestion, and blood pressure, among others. You can think of the sympathetic nervous system response as your stress response, or what puts you in “fight or flight” mode. The parasympathetic nervous system response is also called the “rest and digest” state and is important for allowing your body to digest food, as well as lowering your heart rate and blood pressure.
You probably know that reducing stress is important for health, but what does it have to do with fitness? A lot.
Since recovery is such an important part of your overall fitness routine, HRV is one of the most useful measurements to tell you if your body is recovered (i.e. not in a state of stress or sympathy ) so you can practice again.
For example, maybe you’ve been working out a lot and haven’t slept much, but you still stick to your 6 a.m. workout no matter what. You may technically feel fine, but you risk overtraining if you push yourself too hard (especially without enough sleep). When using a sleep tracker is certainly useful for measuring the quality of your sleep, HRV is another way to see how much you’ve actually recovered from a previous workout or even just from a stressful situation or night out.
How to measure and use HRV
In order to measure HRV, you need some type of heart rate monitor that can accurately measure your heart rate patterns. Some of the most popular devices that incorporate HRV tracking are the Whoop and the apple watch.
Since HRV is a little tricky to measure accurately, it’s helpful to use a device that also tracks your sleep, resting heart rate, and max heart rate to get an overall picture of your health. .
For example, Whoop tracks your HRV, heart rate, exercise, and sleep and uses an algorithm to offer recovery or workout suggestions. If your HRV is good (higher numbers are better), then you are in an optimal state to exercise or adapt to any type of stress.
A good HRV is a sign that your nervous system can adapt well to various situations, which is good when it comes to managing stress and having balanced health in general. Average HRV varies by age, but it also varies by individual – it’s best to follow your own habits and note any changes over time, rather than comparing yourself to others.
Why HRV is important for fitness and overall health
“If your HRV is high, it could be an indicator that you are living a healthier lifestyle and have been following healthy habits like getting a good night’s sleep, exercising regularly, staying hydrated, eating healthy, and reducing blood sugar. stress,” Roser said.
Since your HRV pattern reflects the level of stress your body is under, virtually any facet of your lifestyle can affect it. Remember that stress is more than just mental – things like illness, emotional difficulties, lack of sleep and dehydration are all examples of things that put stress on your body.
Everyone experiences some amount of stress (and some types of stress, like exercise, can be helpful), but it’s important to understand how well your body handles it. Otherwise, you risk overtraining or pushing your body when it’s best to take a break. And this can quickly lead to a feeling of exhaustion, falling ill or simply being exhausted.
“When things are ideal, your beat-to-beat timing has a lot of variability. If your interval rhythm between heartbeats is the same, you’re not yet recovered. This suggests that you may be overtraining, or that you’re just not recovered yet and need a lighter recovery exercise day or rest day in order to achieve more optimal fitness,” said Debra Atkinson, MS, CSCS.
Who can benefit from HRV tracking
Even though HRV is more popular in the world of professional sports and endurance training, it can be useful for anyone to follow. Even if you don’t exercise a lot or train professionally, HRV can help you get a better picture of your body’s stress levels, as well as recovery and fitness levels. If you’re the type prone to burnout or overtraining, HRV tracking can be a useful tool to ensure you’re prioritizing rest days and recovery.
“For people who tend to push forward and work hard for better results, HRV monitoring can provide concrete evidence of much-needed rest. If you’re not likely to rest yourself- even, but find that you are frequently injured or ill, HRV can provide the evidence you need to step back and recover enough to get your fitness, immune system and overall stress levels all more optimal,” Atkinson said.
More key information about your health
The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical or health advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.
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