What Is Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
People think of the heart as a unique part of the body that is very important. Now, everyone knows that the heart is an electrically-powered pump that moves oxygenated blood to where it’s needed and takes in deoxygenated blood from all over the body. Its function is also affected by things like age, lifestyle, lack of exercise, physical activity, metabolic disorders, nutrition status, physiological changes, pathological conditions, etc.
Heart rate variability is the difference between two heartbeats that can be caused by different things that affect the heart’s rhythm (HRV). HRV and heart rate are two different measurements. Heart rate is found by counting the number of heartbeats in a minute, while HRV is found by recording a single heartbeat over time. There are many different types of HRV metrics. It has been found that the mean value for healthy adults is 42 milliseconds, with a range of 19–75 milliseconds. For athletes, this value may be 120 milliseconds.
Autonomic nervous system and HRV
The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are two parts of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). They work in different ways depending on the situation so that homeostasis can be maintained. The sympathetic system is activated by stress (fear, fight, or flight), which causes the heart rate to go up and the body to sweat more. On the other hand, the parasympathetic system is active during rest and digestion, which slows the heart rate and keeps homeostasis.
HRV is used to measure how the autonomic nervous system controls the heart rate at the cardiac sinus node. When the sympathetic system is active, the difference between heartbeats is low, but when the parasympathetic system is active, the difference is high. Low HRV has been linked to heart diseases like high blood pressure, while high HRV has been linked to a healthier heart. HRV is one of the best ways to figure out how different things, like the environment, emotions, thoughts, feelings, etc., affect the nervous system and how the nervous system reacts to those things.
Be cautions: high HRV can also be caused by problems with the heart, such as conduction disorders and atrial fibrillation. In this case, it is strongly linked to a higher chance of dying. So, before collecting HRV, the subject needs to be evaluated by a doctor and given an electrocardiogram, which needs to be carefully read.
Why Does Heart Rate Variability Matter?
In a normal, healthy situation, HRV should go up when the parasympathetic nervous system is in charge, such as when you meditate or sleep. On the other hand, HRV naturally goes down during times of stress, when the body’s sympathetic activity goes up to help it keep up. So, HRV is usually higher when the heart beats slowly and lower when the heart beats faster, like when you’re stressed or working out.
Stress can be good, like a new and exciting challenge, or bad, like too much work pressure or too many demands, depending on how you see it and the situation. A lot of research backs up the idea that long-term stress is bad for your health. Long-term activation of the stress-response system is linked to things like anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, diabetes 2, sleep problems, and problems with memory and concentration. This underlines the significance of effective stress management and recuperation.
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