I recommend periodically tracking heart rate variability as one part of the five new vital signs.
Your heart isn’t designed to beat with monotonous regularity. Instead, it’s supposed to be adaptive, adjusting to your level of exercise, digestive tract action, heat or cold, your emotional state, and even your breathing. Heart rate variability (HRV), because it reflects how well the nervous system runs your body, is an important predictor of vitality and longevity.
To track my HRV I use a Polar brand chest strap linked to a phone app Elite HRV. You can easily track HRV on your own or I can help you during an office visit.
What do I do if my HRV is low?
Here are four proven ways to improve heart rate variability:
It’s likely that almost any type of exercise you do will improve heart rate variability. One of the most effective forms of exercise to improve cardio fitness – high intensity interval training, or HIIT – has also been proven to raise HRV.
Here’s a simple way to incorporate an HIIT component into your fitness program.
Adapt to cold
Don’t shut yourself indoors when the weather turns nasty – go outside to play in the snow! (Of course, take proper precautions to prevent frostbite.) Training your body to function in cold weather improves heart rate variability.
Breathe out slowly
Breathing exercises improve autonomic nerve function and consequently heart rate variability. One of my favorites is also one of the simplest: just prolong your exhale. If you time your breath so that the exhale takes twice as long as your inhale, you’re on the right track!
Meditation has been recognized as one of the most potent health practices for centuries, if not millennia. As part of the process of meditation, you learn to self-regulate your brain activity. This will have a beneficial effect on heart rate variability.
There are many different types of meditation practice; here’s a simple one.