“What is an ideal HRV”? We get this question a lot. We also hear a lot, “Is my HRV low?” And, many people also want to know “How do I raise my HRV?” These are all good questions, but what does the research have to say? This article will help you make sense of your HRV score. But, if you want the short answer, there is NO SUCH THING as an ideal HRV.
Understanding biometric data (i.e., data that is monitoring changes in your physiology) can be extremely difficult. But, for many, heart rate variability (HRV) is one of the most difficult to interpret. This is because, unlike other biometrics, HRV is not interpreted in comparison to others–or, in other words, there are no set comparison standards like other metrics. Take for instance blood pressure. We know that once your blood pressure meets certain criteria or threshold, a diagnosis can be made (i.e., if you have a blood pressure of 130/80, this is considered stage 1 hypertension). HRV has no thresholds or standards–so what is an ideal HRV?
What is HRV?
HRV is the measure of the variation in time intervals between consecutive heartbeats. We use HRV as a way of measuring the autonomic nervous system state you’re in. You can be in a parasympathetic state which is when you’re relaxed or a sympathetic state which is when you’re ready to fight. You will hear this referred to as “fight or flight.”
In general, a higher HRV is considered to be better and indicative of good health. This means that there is more variability in the time interval between heartbeats, which reflects a more flexible and responsive autonomic nervous system. On the other hand, a lower HRV is associated with an increased risk of various health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, and depression.
But what exactly is considered an ideal HRV, and how can we achieve it? Let’s explore the factors that influence HRV and the strategies we can adopt to improve it.
For a more in-depth discussion on HRV, please check out our article here:
HRV is complicated, but it’s also…not
Let’s cut to the chase…
HRV is highly individualized and should ONLY be compared to your own averages. That bears repeating. HRV is ONLY to be compared to you. Comparing your HRV with your friends, family, or the health and wellness influencer you saw on instagram is meaningless. HRV is not a vanity or status symbol. It is a directional guide.
We must ask ourselves, what is this metric telling me? It is telling me how my nervous system is adapting to stress–both physiologically and psychologically. As HRV increases, we see better nervous system adaptation and resilience. This is good.
As HRV decreases, we see a nervous system that is more taxed. This can be problematic. But, what is most important is the direction that HRV is moving–we refer to this as trends.
The one thing to keep in mind is that HRV is impacted by variables both inside and outside of your control. Let’s review these.
7 Factors that influence HRV
There are several factors that can influence HRV, including age, gender, overall health, and lifestyle factors such as stress, exercise, and sleep. Keep in mind…many of these (i.e., age, gender, etc.) are outside of your control.
- Genetics: Yep, you may have lower baseline HRV scores solely based on your genetic makeup.
- Age: As we age, our HRV tends to decrease, reflecting a decrease in the flexibility and responsiveness of the autonomic nervous system. This is why a lower HRV is more common in older adults.
- Gender: Research suggests that men generally have a higher HRV than women, although the reasons for this are not yet clear.
- Overall health: Various health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity can lower HRV. Similarly, poor lifestyle choices such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and poor diet can also contribute to a lower HRV.
- Stress: Stress is a significant factor that can lower HRV. Chronic stress can lead to an overactive sympathetic nervous system, which can disrupt the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and lower HRV.
- Exercise: Moderate exercise can increase HRV, as it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to regulate heart rate. However, excessive exercise or overtraining can lead to a decrease in HRV.
- Sleep: Poor sleep quality or insufficient sleep can lower HRV. Sleep is crucial for the restoration and regeneration of the body, and a lack of sleep can disrupt the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, leading to a lower HRV.
Pitfalls of comparing your HRV to others
It is easy to get caught up in the game of thinking you have low HRV and comparing your HRV to others. Just remember that you are doing yourself a disservice and may actually have a very strong and resilient nervous system even with a “low HRV.” HRV serves its main purpose as a guide.
The biggest pitfall that we have observed at Hanu is that people start to feel anxious when wearing our device because they become concerned that their HRV is too low. That in and of itself defeats the purpose! But, if we start to view HRV as a directional guide, we can use that information to help inform us as to how well or not so well we are adapting to stress. If your HRV is stable or trending upward, then your nervous system is responding how it should! If your HRV is trending downward, then that should be the warning sign that you may need to engage in some biofeedback, breathwork, meditation, or other strategy to kickstart the relaxation process.
You can get a Hanu device and measure and manage these things on your own or you can even work with one of our Hanu Licensed Therapists to guide you through the process.