Your heart rate variability has a big impact on your overall health. Unfortunately, too many Americans are unaware of what heart rate variability is and how certain lifestyle choices can affect it. In today’s article, we will go over what heart rate variability is, what is considered good heart rate variability, symptoms of low heart rate variability, and how you can improve it.
What Is HRV?
Heart rate variability (often referred to as HRV), is the amount of time between your heart’s contractions. These variations are minuscule, only adding or subtracting a fraction of a second between beats. Variations are so small that you need a specialized device just to track them.
Typically, the presence of HRV is a sign of health problems. While they can still exist in relatively healthy individuals, they can be a symptom of heart conditions and mental health issues like anxiety and depression. There are other factors that can affect your HRV that we will discuss later in the article.
What Are Low HRV Symptoms?
As we mentioned earlier, it’s next to impossible to check HRV without specialized equipment. This equipment is typically found at a doctor's office but advancements in technology have allowed us to track our HRV on our own. Some of the ways you can check for low HRV include:
- Electrocardiogram - Specialists will attach wires to your chest in order to monitor your HRV
- Apps and watch systems - There are several products on the market that can watch your heart rate and check your HRV. It should be noted that the accuracy of these devices is still undetermined
- Chest strap heart monitors - Outside of an electrocardiogram, this is the most accurate method. Chest strap heart monitors are more accurate than finger or wrist devices
If you’re curious about your HRV, it’s best to speak with your doctor. This will allow you to get the best results. However, if you choose to monitor it on your own, be sure to research the products before buying.
Should I Worry If My HRV Is Low?
One thing that we need to stress is heart rhythm and HRV can be incredibly complex. What’s considered low HRV for one person might be normal for another. Also, our HRV will naturally lower as we age. That’s why it’s best to speak with your healthcare provider regarding any questions or concerns you may have with your HRV.
With that in mind, one of the most common questions we get is “when should I worry about low HRV?” Typically, an abnormal heart rate variability isn’t something that will cause a medical emergency. However, it can be a sign of current health problems or issues you will have to deal with down the road.
What Conditions Cause Low HRV?
Understanding the conditions that can cause low HRV can help you know what to look out for. Remember, this can vary from person to person. Here are some of the conditions that are linked to low HRV:
- Physiological factors such as age, gender, and circadian rhythm.
- Heart diseases
- Lung diseases
- Renal diseases such as chronic kidney insufficiency.
- Psychiatric diseases such as anxiety disorder, panic attacks, posttraumatic stress disorders, epilepsy, and anorexia.
- External factors such as climate, noise level, and induced pain can all lower your HRV
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to improve your HRV.
How Do You Fix Low HRV?
Since everyone’s HRV is different, the ways to improve HRV may also vary. Generally, the better your overall health is, the higher your HRV will be. Therefore, taking care of both your mental and physical well-being is important. Here are some of the ways you can fix low HRV:
- Take care of your body - By exercising regularly and eating healthy, you can greatly improve the condition of your heart.
- Take care of your mental health - Your mental health plays a key role in your heart rate variability. Reducing stress, for example, can greatly improve HRV. Managing anxiety or depression can also make a huge difference.
There is another method known as biofeedback training. This involves controlling your breathing to help improve your levels of stress and anxiety.
Does Anxiety Affect HRV?
High HRV can be a sign that your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are well-balanced. This allows you to stay relaxed when you aren’t in a life-or-death situation. If you deal with anxiety or stress, you understand that your heart will occasionally beat rapidly. This is because your sympathetic and parasympathetic systems aren’t balanced.
There are a few mental health conditions that are associated with low HRV. PTSD, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder can all have an effect. Being able to influence your HRV could have some significant implications for mental health.