You would have heard about Apple watch etc measuring HRV or heart rate variability. What is this and why should you learn about this? let's explore
HRV is simply a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat. This can be reasonably accurately measured by your apple watch or fit bit etc. This variation is controlled by a primitive part of the nervous system called the autonomic nervous system (ANS). It works and regulates, among other things, our heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and digestion.
The ANS is subdivided into two large components, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the fight-or-flight mechanism and the relaxation response. We have known for a long time that the Vagus nerve is an important part of the parasympathetic nervous system and plays a huge part in promoting the relaxation response.
When we are healthy and not too stressed, these two systems are balanced. If there is a major event in life, the sympathetic nervous system primes us for action. Soon thereafter, the parasympathetic nervous system calms us down. This healthy balance and interplay shows up as a higher HRV number compared to your own base line.
But when we have persistent instigators such as stress, poor sleep, unhealthy diet, dysfunctional relationships, isolation or solitude, and lack of exercise, this balance may be disrupted, and your fight-or-flight response can shift into overdrive. Your HRV goes lower compared to your base line.
We have all known that cardiac health is affected by stress, especially chronic or repeated bouts of acute stress. We are all going through it now thanks to COVID. The functioning of the ANS could be an important pathway linking external stress to cardiac health.
The good news is we can do the reverse. If we can rebalance the ANS by triggering the parasympathetic nervous system, then the HRV goes up. It has a good impact on our cardiac health. There are a number of ways to trigger the vagus nerve non-invasively. Please see the video here
High-frequency HRV is believed to be an accurate measure of vagal tone (how healthy and balanced is our ANS).
We have only focussed on the heart but the benefits of acting on the vagal nerve extend to other areas as well. General inflammation, digestion, and enabling social interaction as you are more relaxed and enjoyable in company - are some of them. Thunai will give you more videos on the benefits of vagal exercises for your mental and physical well-being.