HRV: Why It Matters & How To Use It To Improve Your Health
HRV: Why It Matters & How To Use It To Improve Your Health

HRV: Why It Matters & How To Use It To Improve Your Health

Forget 5k personal bests or lifting heavier weights – those in the know are tracking their fitness with heart rate variability (HRV). Thanks to high-end fitness trackers, it’s never been easier to do this yourself. Here’s what you need to know about this useful measure of how well your body is handling mental and physical stress…
By Tor West

There’s More To It Than Heart Rate 

“HRV is the difference in time between the beats of your heart. If your heart rate is 60 beats per minute, this doesn’t mean it’s beating exactly once a second. There are small fluctuations between beats, measured in milliseconds. The more difference there is in the timing between two beats, the higher your HRV. You might think this would be a marker of cardiovascular fitness, but your HRV is actually linked to your nervous system, which is made up of two branches: the sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic side releases hormones to increase heart rate and prepare your body for a stressful ‘fight or flight’ situation. The parasympathetic side releases hormones to slow heart rate. Your HRV is an indicator of how these systems are working in tandem. A high HRV suggests you can toggle back and forth between these two systems quickly, while a lower HRV indicates there’s an imbalance and either your fight-or-flight response is kicked into overdrive or you’re very stressed.” – Lucie Cowan, master trainer at Third Space 

You Can Use It To Train Like An Athlete

"It’s an accurate way of measuring recovery and readiness to exercise, and it’s valuable because some conventional methods of tracking recovery – such as resting heart rate – don’t give the full picture. The human heart is a wonderful barometer of the overall psychological stress and physical workload experienced by the body. The heart is a muscle, it gets tired and like any other muscle requires time to recover. Athletes use HRV to mitigate the risk of over-exercising, under-recovery, illness and injury. Now fitness trackers like the Oura ring and Whoop band are enabling everyday fitness enthusiasts to train smarter, recover better and perform more consistently.” – Eddie Fletcher, sport scientist at Wattbike & founder of Fletcher Sport Science 

HRV enables you to train smarter, recover better and PERFORM MORE CONSISTENTLY.

It’s At Its Highest When We Are Rested

“HRV fluctuates over the course of the day and from one day to the next. In general terms, a higher HRV is considered a sign of health while a lower HRV is a sign that your health – physical and mental – could be improved. We tend to be either parasympathetic dominant (chilled, slower-paced, often more stoic people) or sympathetic dominant (stressed, type-A, ‘always busy’ people). The parasympathetics tend to have an average HRV of 80-150, whereas a sympathetic type operates well with an average of 40-60. In general, HRV is at its highest when we are most rested and least stressed.” – Tim Gray, biohacker 

We’re All Different

“Comparing HRV to your best friend is meaningless as we are all finely tuned in different ways. It’s far more meaningful to monitor your own HRV trend over time. If you’re making efforts to better your overall health and fitness, you should see your HRV increase over time. At the other end of the spectrum, for those who have been hitting their workouts hard but see their HRV is reducing, this may be a sign that they’re overtraining, under-recovering, or have poor nutrition or insufficient sleep. Remember: a high HRV is a sign your nervous system is balanced and reflects how adaptable your body is to stress.” – Lucie 

Want to raise your HRV?

Here’s what the experts recommend…

Cut Back On Alcohol

“Accept that alcohol will have a detrimental effect on HRV. The fitness tracker Whoop found that when individuals reported consuming alcohol, their HRV dropped by an average of 22 milliseconds the next day. Additionally, the lingering effects of alcohol in your system may continue to suppress your HRV for up to five days.” – Lucie 

Sleep Well

“Getting all the sleep your body needs is a great start, but equally as important is making an effort to go to sleep and wake up at regular times each day. Sleep consistency will boost your HRV by helping to sustain your circadian rhythm, enabling you to spend more time in deep sleep.” – Lucie 

Train Intelligently

“Accept that sometimes less is more. Have structure to your exercise plan and get into the habit of listening to your body. Understand that sometimes it’s better to take a rest day so you can go hard again tomorrow. Don’t push too hard for too many days without giving your body the chance to recover.” – Eddie 

Incorporate Self-Care

“Take time to de-stress and wind down every day, no exceptions. Time and again, clients come back from holiday with a higher HRV having spent days away from the grind, getting plenty of sunlight, sleeping more and recharging their batteries.” – Tim 

Have A Cold Shower

“Incorporating 60-second bursts of cold water into your shower will make the body more resilient to stress and lower inflammation, both of which can support a healthy HRV.” – Tony Pemberton, founder of Epic Genetics

Improve Your Diet

“Different diets work for different people, but a diet low in processed food can help lower inflammation and improve HRV. The time you eat also affects HRV: for example, having a large dinner two to three hours before bed can negatively impact HRV as your body is in digestion mode rather than recovery. Eat dinner earlier if you can – especially if it’s a larger meal.” – Tony 


“Your level of hydration determines the volume of your blood, and the more liquid you have in your system the easier it is for blood to circulate, and deliver oxygen and nutrients to your body.” – Lucie  

Reduce Blue Light

“Blue light – the light emitted from screens – suppresses the body’s release of melatonin, the hormone that makes us feel drowsy and supports sleep. Given the link between poor sleep and HRV, optimising our evening routine is crucial. Wear blue-blocking glasses after sunset, avoid stimulating TV within two hours of going to bed and turn your wi-fi off at night.” – Tim 

Boost Oxytocin

“Hugging releases oxytocin, the hormone that creates a feeling of calmness and relaxation. This release can have a domino effect throughout the body and reduce HRV. Hug a loved one daily – it can make a real difference.” – Tim 

DISCLAIMER: Features published by SheerLuxe are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programme.

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