Eating a healthy diet, exercising, and managing stress are all popular ways of helping to improve your health. As part of that, these can help improve your heart rate variability, which can be a good indicator of current or future health problems. Heart rate variability is a measure of the time between heartbeats. Many people assume that the amount of time between heartbeats is equal, almost like the heart acting like a metronome. That's actually not the case as the gap between each heart beat has natural fluctuation and variability. A higher heart rate variability is generally an indication of good health, and a lower heart rate variability is often a marker of poor health. As people age heart rate variability declines, but fortunately, there are many different things you can do to help improve your heart rate variability. What are some things you can do to improve heart rate variability?
Improve Sleep Quality
Many people aren't getting enough or good enough quality sleep every night. Good quality sleep is important for many reasons, but especially because the body needs a break at night to rest and detoxify. When you maintain a consistent sleep schedule, your body gets better quality sleep. It's important that your body spends enough time going through the different sleep cycles at night. When you get enough REM sleep, your circadian rhythm improves and has a positive impact on your heart rate variability. Not only does it help improve heart rate variability, but it can also reduce your odds of getting chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, mental health disorders, and obesity.
What does proper sleep look like? Most adults require anywhere from seven to nine hours of sleep each night. During the night, everyone moves through four different stages of sleep in a sleep cycle, each of which lasts around 90 minutes. The four stages consist of three non-rapid eye movements (NREM) and one rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Making sure that you have good quality sleep is just as important as the proper quantity of sleep. To get better quality sleep, make sure you stay off electronics for at least an hour before you go to sleep, limit caffeine intake before noon, and keep your sleeping environment a calm place.
Utilizing breathing techniques can help activate the parasympathetic nervous system. When you're feeling overwhelmed, taking a deep breath can signal safety to your body. If it's deep breathing, it's most likely not in harm's way. Deep breathing can help quell anxiety symptoms like dizziness, increased heart rate, and breathlessness. As you work on intentional breathing, your body's heart rate variability will naturally synchronize with your breath. A good rule of thumb to remember is the 4-2-4 rule, where you inhale for four seconds, hold it for two, and then exhale for at least four seconds. When the exhale is longer than the inhale, this signals safety to the brain.
While meditation is extremely effective at getting the body into the parasympathetic state, breath-work can be equally as effective. Studies have shown that breathing evenly and slowly for as little as six minutes a day can be very helpful. When you inhale, it's important to remember to inflate your stomach instead of your chest.
Regular exercise is so good for the body for so many reasons, but it is especially helpful in improving heart rate variability. It's important to know your body's limits, though- if you overexert yourself, it can have a negative impact on your heart rate variability. If you train too intensely, it's imperative to give your body a proper rest period to allow for recovery. There's a proper balance between getting the right amount of exercise and over-exerting your body. Some good ways to exercise while being aware of not over-doing it include:
- Water aerobics
Overtraining can cause an imbalance in nervous system activity, which can lead to a decrease in heart rate variability over time. Making sure that you're not training too intensely to the point that you can't complete a workout or you constantly feel tired can be indicators that your body needs more downtime. Certain exercises can be helpful in activating the body's parasympathetic response, where the body rests and recuperates.
Proper Hydration and Skipping Alcohol
It's important for so many different bodily functions to stay properly hydrated. Drinking at least eight- 8-ounce glasses of water a day can help keep your body's hydration levels where they should be. When you consume too much alcohol, your heart rate increases, raising your blood pressure. Alcohol can be hard on your liver, which is the organ that helps filter toxins from the body. When you're putting more toxins in your body, the liver has to work harder to remove them. When you stop drinking as much alcohol, you may also find the added benefit of weight loss.
Aside from all these negative effects, alcohol has also been proven to lower your heart rate variability. Even small amounts of alcohol can spike your heart rate and lower your heart rate variability. If you're measuring your heart rate variability, it may be a good idea to abstain from drinking alcohol for a while until you discover if it is impacting your heart rate variability.
Eating More Leafy Green Vegetables
Eating a healthy diet has so many benefits, but new research shows that eating leafy green vegetables can help boost your heart rate variability. Consuming a wide diet of good quality meat, fruits, and vegetables doesn't really have a huge impact on heart rate variability. Eating more leafy greens like mustard greens, spinach, kale, and lettuce had healthier heart rate variability scores. It's a good idea to consume at least two cups of leafy greens each week. Some people like adding leafy green vegetables to smoothies for added nutritional punch without the extra flavor.
One of the reasons that leafy green vegetables are so beneficial for cardiovascular health is that they contain good amounts of vitamin K1. When people consume large amounts of vitamin K1, they may notice a reduction in high cholesterol, a lower heart rate, and improved heart rate variability. Leafy green vegetables also contain fiber that helps to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. They are nutritional powerhouses that pack a huge punch when it comes to vitamins and minerals.
When your body is operating from a parasympathetic state of rest-and-digest, your heart rate variability will generally be higher than if it's operating out of a sympathetic state. If you've tried all of the above tips, but your heart rate variability is still on the low side, it may be worth examining how you are handling stress. It's impossible to completely avoid stress, but there are ways you can support your body to handle it better.
Spending time in nature, exercising, and doing meditation are all ways to help the body deal with stress more effectively. Many people that deal with mental health issues find that reducing stress and practicing mindfulness can help drastically reduce their symptoms. A study has found that as little as twenty minutes could help increase heart rate variability.
If you've ever experienced an instance where you can't wake up, splashing cold water on your face can do the trick. When you intentionally expose yourself to cold for short bursts of time, you help get your body into parasympathetic mode, open up cellular pathways in the body, and can also improve your heart rate variability. Taking a cold shower or immersing yourself in an ice bath are two ways to experience thermogenesis. Cold thermogenesis can also lead to weight loss, boost metabolism, and alleviate sore muscles. Cold stimulation at the lateral neck region can help improve heart rate variability and also lower heart rate.
Prioritizing Your Health
Making sure to take good care of yourself is very important, and with proper diet and exercise, you've got a great start. Taking good quality supplements can be very helpful in filling nutritional gaps and increasing longevity. You've got only one life and one body, so it's important that you take good care of it. Eating a healthful diet, exercising regularly, and managing stress can be life-changing for some people. Today's culture is always on the go, but this isn't always a good thing. Rest and relaxation are very important parts of life, and it's imperative to make time for those too.
Improving Heart Rate Variability
When measuring your heart rate variability, you can get a good idea of your overall health. By taking consistent measurements over time, you'll be able to see a pattern develop and try to improve your heart rate variability. By following the above tips, you can not only improve your heart rate variability, but you'll also improve your overall health and quality of life.