Heart rate variability (HRV) is the measure of the difference in time between each heartbeat. It is controlled by the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which also regulates heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and breathing. It plays a key role in your fight-or-flight response.
There is a strong connection between health and HRV. People that are at high risk for certain diseases often have low HRV. HRV monitoring can help determine risk, so actions are taken early on to improve quality of life.
The article will look at how various diseases affect HRV and what you can do to stay healthy.
Why is Heart Rate Variability a Good Thing?
Higher HRV or heart rate variability is a good sign you’re ready to to deal with life’s inevitable challenges. People with highly variable heart rates will be able to adapt to different life changes. They are also typically less stressed and happier.
If your HRV is low, it shows your body is less resilient and less able to hand challenging situations. It also often signifies and increased risk of disease.
People who have high resting heart rates tend to have low HRV. When the heart beats faster, there is less time between beats which reduces the opportunity for variability. This is often the case in people with diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, anxiety, depression, and heart arrhythmia.
A 2018 review of 25 case control studies of 2,932 patients with type 2 diabetes showed the disease was associated with an overall decrease in HRV. Both sympathetic and parasympathetic activity were decreased. These are the systems of the ANS responsible for relaxation or the activation of the fight or flight response.
It’s likely the reduced HRV activity was caused by the effects of altered glucose metabolism which can lead to cardiac autonomic neuropathy. The studies showed the benefits of HRV evaluation in assessing and monitoring Type 2 diabetes as it is a non-invasive, reliable, and pain-free option.
High Blood Pressure
Studies have shown a strong relation between high blood pressure and HRV. An Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study revealed that HRV is significantly lower in people with hypertension. Individuals with extremely low variability are shown to have a 2.44 times greater risk of hypertension as compared to those with greater variability.
The study suggests that impaired autonomic nervous function and decreased HRV may be the underlying causes of hypertension. It also revealed that people with a high HRV show improved cardiovascular function and stress tolerance as compared to low HRV individuals.
Several publications have supported the potential benefits of using biofeedback on asthma by influencing HRV.
A 2017 study looked at 60 patients with moderate asthma. 2/3 used biofeedback treatment for control while 1/3 used musical treatment for control for 15 weeks.
The biofeedback group received HRV biofeedback and supportive training in progressive muscle relaxation and abdominal breathing. In the last 7 weeks, they were exposed to training to simulate an asthma attack response.
The music treatment group underwent similar protocol but with music relaxation therapy only.
At the conclusion of the study, the biofeedback group showed a 32% improvement in asthma control while the music relaxation group didn’t show any improvement. It suggests that HRV biofeedback may improve asthma control and reduce the usage of medications. Further evaluation is needed.
While heart arrhythmias and HRV both affect the way the heart beats, they are not the same.
Your heart rate will vary when exposed to stress and other life events. This is perfectly normal. These types of fluctuations are known as a sinus arrhythmia.
However, cardiac arrhythmias can be caused by lowered HRV. They can also be caused by alcohol use, cigarette smoke, psychological stress and certain medications.
A 2018 review showed that having a high HRV is associated with improved emotional wellbeing and lower levels of worry and anxiety. Individuals with a high HRV are better able to control their emotions. It is believed that the variability is due to how the heart responds to physiological signals such as breathing and blood pressure feedback.
How Hanu Health Can Help
The statistics in this article show a distinct correlation between HRV and a variety of health conditions. Keeping track of HRV can make you aware of health risks so you can take steps to improve your well-being. The Hanu Health platform measures HRV and other biometrics to benefit quality of life.
Hanu Health tracks heart rate, HRV, respiration rate, and stress resiliency. The main goal is to improve the way one handles stress. But it can also promote benefits in other aspects of health.
If you are looking to boost your well-being, Hanu Health is a great resource.