Being aware of your heart rate variability can be a key piece in obtaining optimal health. Heart rate variability (often abbreviated HRV) is the measurement of variations between your heartbeats. Your autonomic nervous system regulates HRV as well as blood pressure, respiratory rate, and temperature. Whether you’re familiar with heart rate variability or this is an entirely new concept, trying to get your heart rate variability into a good range is always a great idea.
What Should I Do if I Have a Low HRV?
Anxiety, depression, and even some cardiovascular diseases have been observed in people that have a low HRV. If you want to fix low HRV, the good news is that there are things you can do to help improve your heart rate variability. A high HRV has been linked to the parasympathetic response of the autonomic nervous system, meaning your body is in rest-and-digest mode. In this state, the body has more resilience and flexibility in switching between low and high heart rates. Having a higher HRV can possibly indicate an increased ability to better deal with stressful situations and better overall cardiovascular health.
If you have a low heart rate variability, there are steps you can take today to help improve your HRV. Proper stress management, good quality sleep, healthy eating, and regular exercise can all be very helpful in keeping the body in parasympathetic mode. It can take some time to get the body to be comfortable with being in the rest-and-digest phase, as when the body gets stuck in fight-or-flight mode it is often work to get it out of this mode. The body becomes almost addicted to stress chemicals and wants to stay in that state, so doing mindfulness activities like meditation and positive thinking can help train the brain to be more comfortable staying in parasympathetic mode, helping to improve your HRV.
Should I Worry if My HRV is Low?
Some people have noticed that their HRV dropped over time, causing them concern. While low HRV is something to be concerned about, it is also a good time to take steps to improve it. One of the available modalities to help improve HRV is biofeedback training, which helps synchronize heart and respiratory rates measured by an individualized breathing frequency pattern. By working on increasing your HRV you not only improve your overall autonomic nervous system function, but you also may help to reduce anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular health. In addition to biofeedback training, there are also other modalities you can do from home to help improve your HRV.
Why is My HRV Always Low?
If your HRV is low, you may wonder why. While the main control of HRV is the autonomic nervous system, there are other factors that play a part as well. Your age, genetics, heart, and lung can all affect HRV. Being under stress can cause a significant impact to your autonomic nervous system, especially if your body has been under chronic stress. As your body ages, your HRV usually naturally gets lower over time. By using some of the techniques listed above, you should be able to improve your HRV. If you notice you have a consistently low HRV, that may be a good indicator that your body is stuck in flight-or-fight mode and could use some work to bring it back into the parasympathetic system. As this change occurs, you may notice better overall health as your body can start to heal itself. A low HRV is a good clue that the body could use some autonomic nervous system support.
What Causes HRV to Drop?
A sudden drop in HRV can be observed as people age, but they may also notice that during a traumatic event their HRV drastically decreases as well. Athletes may notice that if they exercise extensively for a few days in a row, they may notice a sudden HRV drop. Many other factors of daily life can affect HRV, including what you eat and the quantity and quality of your sleep. If you’re exercising frequently and noticing an HRV drop, it may be good to pull back and not push so hard with the training. Staying hydrated can also help improve HRV, as the more hydrated you are, the easier it is for your blood to circulate. Avoiding alcohol and following a healthful, varied diet full of good quality meats, fruits, and vegetables can all help with your HRV. A stressful event may cause a drop in HRV, and learning to manage stress more effectively can help improve your overall health.
Can Low HRV Be Improved?
There are many steps you can take to improve low HRV. It’s important to note that having a consistent HRV is a good indicator that your body is improving. Whether you’re 20 years old or 80 years old, there are things you can do to help improve HRV. Here are some things you can work on to help improve your HRV:
- Stay active with light exercise. Regular exercise a few times a week can help lower your resting heart rate and improve your HRV. It is important not to go overboard, though, as too much high-frequency exercise can have the opposite effect you are going for sometimes.
- Get good quality and quantity of sleep. The quality and quantity of sleep you get is just as important as exercising. If you aren’t getting good quality sleep, your body can’t rest and detoxify, which can lead to a lower HRV.
- Eat a good diet. Food, sleep, and exercise are three pillars of good health. If one of those is lacking, your overall health may be struggling.
- Practice deep breathing. When you practice deep breathing through mindfulness, meditation, or yoga, it can help strengthen the parasympathetic system, resulting in an improved HRV.
How do I Get My HRV Back to Normal?
To get a normal HRV, you first need to try to discover what is causing your HRV to be low. If you know you’ve been under a lot of stress lately, it may be a good idea to work on improving the health of your autonomic nervous system. If you aren’t getting good quality sleep, focusing on improving sleep hygiene can be a great step in improving your HRV. Making sure you aren’t on electronics for two hours before bedtime, and getting the recommended 7-8 hours can really help to get your HRV back to normal. Working on improving the autonomic nervous system isn’t going to hurt anyone and can be a very reasonable and attainable goal.
How Long Does it Take to Increase HRV?
The length of time it takes to increase HRV is very individual, but there are times that people see results pretty quickly after they make specific lifestyle changes. Some people may find that they are deficient in macro or micronutrients, and by supplementing with those, they may find their HRV improves within as little as 30-60 days. They may notice an improvement in specific markers at first while their HRV stays the same, and as time goes on, they will see an improved HRV.
How Can I Improve My HRV
There are tangible steps you can take no matter your health status to improve your HRV. Exercising properly, eating healthy food, and staying hydrated are great first steps for people of all ages to take. Avoiding alcohol, getting good quality sleep, and being exposed to natural sunlight can all help improve overall health. Working on improving autonomic nervous sympathetic health by taking cold showers, practicing intentional breathing, and practicing mindfulness techniques can help get the body out of fight-or-flight and into rest-and-digest.