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HRV as a marker of health and resiliency

HRV/ Heart Rate Variability refers to the variation between each heart beat. The heart is not meant to beat like a metronome, but to adapt and change slightly with each consecutive beat. Measuring HRV provides us with a window into the autonomic (or automatic) nervous system and one's ability to adapt.

The autonomic nervous system coordinates impulses from the central nervous system to peripheral organs. This includes constriction/ contraction and dilation of blood vessels and smooth muscle in various organs. When we are preparing to run from a bear, the ANS shifts into sympathetic dominance; blood is shunted away from the internal organs and more evolved brain centers to prioritize big muscles (thighs) and primitive (survival) brain, breath is shallow, and heart rate speeds up.

When we perceive safety, the ANS shifts into parasympathetic dominance; blood returns to the internal organs so we can digest food and assimilate nutrients, heart rate slows down, breath expands, and critical thinking comes back on board.

As we move through life, the goal is not to remain in one leg of the ANS, but to swiftly shift back and forth depending on our environment. Safety being the number one goal, it makes sense that we are constantly needing to adjust.

Since HRV measures balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous tone, a higher HRV would indicate more resilience and adaptability.

Factors that can negatively impact HRV:

- Poor sleep

- Stress

- Toxic relationships

- Chronic infections

- Environmental toxins

- Alcohol

Factors that can positively impact HRV:

- Diaphragmatic breathing

- Good quality sleep

- Biofeedback (HeartMath institute Inner Balance personal device)

- Yoga and meditation

- Cold water therapy

- Song and dance

- Walk barefoot on the earth

There are many things you can do to support optimal HRV levels, and even wearable devices such as the Oura ring and Whoop. What are you doing daily to support your nervous system?


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