Lately, we have all seen individuals who seem to be the ultimate picture of health only to learn that they are in their 60s and even 70s. These people always seem to get us to ask the question, “What makes them different?”.
We have always accepted that the brain and body will slowly and steadily degrade as we age. However, many signs of aging (fatigue, brain fog, decreased muscle mass, etc.) are not inevitable. Simple lifestyle adjustments can reverse these signs of aging, and a powerful health metric known as heart rate variability (HRV) can track them.
Our brains and bodies naturally create cellular debris as we age. On top of this, our body’s natural repair systems can become overwhelmed and exhausted due to a poor diet, lack of fuel, and poor maintenance, keeping them from functioning at their highest potential. As a result, many people feel the symptoms of aging and fail to see the control they have over their health, especially as they age.
One of the key players in your body’s ability to heal and regulate itself lies within the autonomic nervous system:
The Role of the Autonomic Nervous System
Your autonomic nervous system (ANS) takes care of the unconscious processes within the body, such as breathing, heartbeat activity, healing, and coordination with the brain. The ANS helps prep the body for action or brings it back to rest to recover.
Infection or injury activates the ANS, which responds by triggering the release of compounds that affect immune function and inflammation.
The parasympathetic (rest and digest) branch of the ANS also regulates inflammation. It acts as an anti-inflammatory neural circuit that coordinates the brain with the body to remove damaging inflammation.
If we fail to keep up with a clean diet and active lifestyle as we age, detrimental alterations such as inflammation and oxidation build up in the body. Our stress response system becomes skewed and unable to respond appropriately to stressful triggers.
Overall, this reduces the ability of the ANS to perform its proper function while negatively affecting adequate gene expression. This situation leads to the classic aging symptoms of fatigue, brain fog, poor muscle tone and development, heart disease, and diabetes.
“Dysregulation of the ANS has been shown to be directly related to the symptoms of aging. This dysregulation has been linked to cognitive decline, disturbed sleeping patterns, inflammation, and heart disease.”
Heart rate variability is a crucial metric for analyzing the state and shift of the ANS. The ANS regulates unconscious processes in the body, such as heartbeat activity, and it’s responsible for how the body responds to stress. Leading advocates in the anti-aging sphere emphasize the importance of improving the effective control of the ANS.
HRV and Anti Aging
Due to the interconnected nature of heart rate variability, ANS, and the body’s genetics, your HRV readings reveal your body’s vitality.
Multiple studies outline the relationship between HRV and aging. HRV is considered a strong marker for healthy aging and overall vitality in people of all ages.
Other studies have demonstrated that low or “less variable” HRV values usually indicate compromised health and increased mortality. Additionally, reduced HRV is linked to a reduced physical functional status and predicts the risk of future functional decline in older adults.
Cognitive functioning includes global cognition, executive functions, reaction time, and processing speed. HRV data is one piece of the puzzle that gives us insights into cognitive functioning.
Studies have demonstrated that older adults with lower HRV recordings performed worse in global cognition tests, pointing to age-related cognitive decline. Similarly, reduced HRV values in older adults were associated with lower performance in global cognitive functioning. Reduced HRV values are also a good predictor of chronic heart failure, a condition related to autonomic dysfunction.
At its core, HRV measures reflect the adaptivity of the brain-body system.
These critical studies reveal the undeniable link between HRV data and many common age-related symptoms.
HRV is a reliable and objective measure of ANS function. If your HRV readings decrease from your averages, it generally reflects reduced parasympathetic activity and a tendency towards sympathetic (stress) activation.
Stress activation is linked to inflammation, cognitive decline, heart disease development, and other age-related health deficiencies. Long-term trends in HRV can be used as a marker for health decline and provide biological age estimates.
The methylation process is a significant cause of aging. Modifications in gene expression, rather than genetic code, cause changes within organisms. The study of this process is called epigenetics.
Gene expression plays a significant role in how well your body functions. Genes negatively affected by a poor diet, stress, or other adverse health factors can lead to detrimental inflammation. They can also lead to negatively affected pathways that can cause diabetes, cardiovascular disease, neural tissue degradation, and more.
The epigenetic landscape within our body and gene expression are under the direct supervision of the ANS. Stress, a poor diet, smoking, and other environmental factors can cause harmful changes to your stress regulation systems controlled by your genetics.
Epigenetics provides an additional layer of instructions that can affect gene expression without changing the genetic code. The genetic code within the body is under the direct control of the ANS, but environmental exposure affects this process a great deal.
For example, prolonged sun exposure can cause the genome found in cells within the skin to release damaging byproducts. However, other environmental factors such as exercise, healthy light exposure, and other forms of resilience training can improve the body’s ability to fight against stress and the effects of aging.
DNA methylation is an effective control program that modulates gene expression within your body. It’s easier to think of how well your body can read the instructions that the DNA has ready for it.
DNA methylation can proceed adequately, resulting in better gene expression ability when your body is in good shape. Engaging in unhealthy habits can alter DNA methylation levels, leading to difficulty maintaining blood sugar and unhealthy brain chemistry and blood pressure.
How To Improve HRV
The secret of anti-aging lies in an individual’s ability to trigger each branch of the autonomic nervous system.
Based on the interconnection of HRV with cognitive, physical, and even genetic health factors outlined above, we know that your HRV depends on physical and mental aspects and environmental factors. We need to take care of our bodies and minds to improve HRV.
We can take care of our bodies and minds by following the main pillars of a healthy lifestyle:
Feed Your Genes
Studies show that your genes respond directly to the food you eat. Food provides the information that controls your gene expression. When you eat the right foods, you balance your blood sugar, restore hormonal balance, and reduce the damaging impacts of stress.
Diets that consist of starchy foods, simple carbohydrates, and unhealthy fats, especially in industrial seed oils found in many typical American diets, can cause the over-stimulation of genes that trigger inflammation and insulin sensitivity.
You are what you eat. Eating a balanced diet that minimizes sugar and consists of plenty of vegetables, healthy fats, and protein can reduce the stress on your genetics. A balanced diet improves your body’s ability to heal and promotes longevity.
Physical exercise reduces and reverses many damaging epigenetic mutations. All exercise can help increase the expression levels of tumor-suppressing genes and decrease expression levels of cancer-causing genes. When you exercise, you are purposefully activating your sympathetic nervous system and improving your ability to respond to stressors. Training properly should lead to more variable HRV readings over the long term.
Exercise places healthy stress on your body under your conscious control, improving the expression of genes tied to longevity while reducing unhealthy DNA methylation that leads to aging.
Sleep deprivation has a profound impact on the biology of the brain and its ability to perform proper maintenance. While you sleep, your body ensures everything is running smoothly and balanced.
Clear evidence exists that epigenetic alterations occur following sleep deprivation. Not getting enough sleep damages your body’s ability to heal itself, reducing vitality later in life. Older individuals working to minimize inflammation and oxidative stress are especially prone to the harmful effects of sleep deprivation.
Improve Your HRV, Improve Your Vitality
As we can tell, heart rate variability is a helpful tool that can help guide your behaviors and lifestyle habits while giving you valuable insights into your body’s epigenetics and biological clock.
HRV becomes an invaluable metric to measure good health and provides insight into how well your body is aging as you change your lifestyle to support longevity.
Using biofeedback wearables such as Hanu can simplify this process and help you use your HRV readings to develop a closer relationship with your health.