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Neurobites: Heart Rate Variability

🕑 2 minutes read
Posted March 12, 2016

Heart Rate Variability

Heart rate variability (HRV) is a broad measure of overall health and fitness and a biomarker for homeostatic capacity (see below) as well as the potential for a healthy lifespan.  It specifically measures the variability of the time gap between heartbeats and can be calculated by a wide variety of hand-held devices.  Generally, a low HRV is unfavorable; it indicates dominance of your sympathetic (“fight or flight”) nervous system and can be associated with stress and inflammation.  Cardiologists have used HRV as a predictor of heart health; a low HRV is often an indicator that someone has or may develop a cardiovascular condition.  Low HRV may also suggest anxiety, depression or other health concerns and indicates a need for rest, sleep and recovery.  On the contrary, a high HRV is associated with activation of your parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) nervous system and relaxation and equanimity.  A high HRV indicates that your body has good homeostatic capacity and can recover easily from the stressors life inevitably brings.

Homeostatic capacity

Homeostatic capacity is our body’s self-correcting mechanism.  It is the biological system we rely on to recover from stressors and return to equilibrium by adjusting physiological processes.  It maintains constancy of our body’s internal environment – from the healthy functioning of cells to tissues to organs and eventually whole systems.  It also protects the body from changes in the external environment like temperature changes, for example.  If homeostasis fails, the disease process is initiated.  By focusing on improving homeostatic capacity itself rather than specific imbalances in our internal systems we can postpone aging with a better quality of life.

So, how can you increase your heart rate variability?  

Really, doing anything that dampens your sympathetic nervous system and activates your parasympathetic nervous system will improve your HRV and homeostatic capacity. One way to do this is to stimulate your vagus nerve, which relays information between your brain and organs.  Your vagus nerve has the ability to reduce heart rate and blood pressure and can have a calming effect on your body.  As part of the peripheral nervous system, your vagus nerve normally works without your conscious control. But you can willfully activate it if you know the right techniques.  Some non-invasive, research-based methods include:

  • Getting adequate sleep – especially after a stressful event – using the Dreampad
  • Meditation, breathing and biofeedback training to stay more calm and regulated with Interactive Meditation (with iom2)
  • Listen to soothing music combined with movement to improve brain function and body organization – using the Focus System

Learn more about the history of Music Therapy and the influences of Attention and Regulation.

References: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2903986/

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