How Can I Improve My HRV Recovery?
Before beginning any type of HRV recovery, it’s important to understand what your target heart rate zone is. You should know your estimated maximum heart rate based on your age in order to maximize your diet and exercise. As you get older, your maximum heart rate will drop. It’s important to know this so you don’t overdo any of your recovery methods.
1. Avoid Overtraining
Understanding your average HRV range can help you know whether or not you’re overtraining. For the most part, as you get healthier through a workout routine and are making strength gains, your HRV range will increase. However, if you end up working out too hard, you may notice a sharp downtick in your HRV.
If you are keeping track of your heart rate variability and you notice that it decreases suddenly, your body may be under too much physical stress. That’s why many fitness experts recommend keeping track of your HRV when you’re working out. It can give you some amazing insights into your heart health.
2. Eat A Healthy Diet That Supports Your Recovery
As you probably guessed, your diet will play a key role in your HRV recovery. That’s why you should look to add foods that increase HRV to your diet. Make sure that you are properly dialing in your macros and fixing your micronutrient deficiencies. If you have, say, a magnesium deficiency, it can lower your HRV. Tracking your HRV is actually a great way to figure out which macronutrient ratios and calorie amounts help you recover better.
Limiting your eating window is also a great way to improve your HRV. Our guts have an internal clock that regulates the daily flow of enzymes, the absorption of nutrients, and the removal of waste. These daily rhythms are so ingrained that they are programmed into our DNA. If you disrupt this rhythm by eating at strange times, your sympathetic nervous system could go into overdrive.
3. Get Quality Sleep Every Night
Sleep and the autonomic nervous system have an incredibly complex relationship. The activity of our autonomic nervous system will affect our ability to fall asleep, but our sleep quality will affect the ability of our autonomic nervous system to function properly. So you can see how this relationship can become toxic quickly.
Not getting enough sleep and waking up frequently throughout the night will increase sympathetic activity, elevate the heart rate and blood pressure, and lower HRV. To make matters more complicated, sleep experts believe there is a direct link between sleep disorders like insomnia and sleep apnea, and HRV. Those with insomnia see elevated sympathetic activity both during the day and at night.
4. Avoid or Limit Alcohol Consumption
Regularly consuming alcohol can cause your HRV to drop and your resting heart rate to rise. All it takes for alcohol to affect your HRV is something as small as a medium glass of table wine. Of course, the more alcohol you consume, the bigger an effect it will have on your HRV. Those who drink regularly, typically have a low HRV and a high resting heart rate.
It should be noted that there are some conflicting beliefs about this. The relationship between alcohol consumption and cardiovascular health can be described as a J-shaped curve. Low to moderate consumption has been associated with lower mortality rates when compared to zero alcohol consumption. Heavy alcohol consumption has the worst effect on mortality.
5. Take Cold Showers
Believe it or not, taking cold showers can boost your HRV. Not only that, it can reduce your chances of getting winter colds and flu by up to 25%. Remember, your HRV will fluctuate depending on how healthy you are. If you are battling a cold or the flu, your HRV will tank as your body is focusing on fighting the illness.
If you just can’t quit your relaxing hot showers, we have some good news for you. You only have to turn the tap to fully cold for 15-30 seconds at the end of a hot shower. Some of the other benefits of cold showers include calming itchy skin, waking you up in the morning, increasing circulation, reducing muscle soreness, boosting weight loss, and glowing hair and skin.
6. Slow Down Your Breathing
Working on your breathing patterns can actually help boost your HRV. Research shows that breathing at a rate of 5.5 bpm can increase HRV and regular breathing exercises can improve HRV. That’s because slow breathing can help promote relaxation throughout the body. Some of the breathing exercises that can help include
- HRV resonant breathing - Inhale through your nose for a count of five seconds and exhale through your nose for a count of five seconds. This can lower blood pressure, relieve anxiety, and slow heart rate
- Diaphragmatic Buteyko breathing - Begin breathing through the nose. Slow down the breath, keeping the breath gentle and quiet. Continue slowing down the breath until you feel a slight air shortage. Resist the urge to take deeper breaths. Continue for one minute. This can relieve stress and anxiety, lower heart rate, and lower blood pressure
- Alternate nostril breathing - Gently cover one nostril while breathing in through the other. Before exhaling, switch to covering the other nostril. This can reduce stress and anxiety, promote relaxation, and lower blood pressure
- Box breathing - Inhale slowly for a count to four until you have reached full lung capacity. Hold your breath at the top of your inhale for a count of four. Exhale over another count of four until your lungs are empty. This can relieve stress and anxiety, improve mood, and increase energy
These breathing exercises can help improve your health in a number of different ways.
7. Spend Time Outside
Spending time outside can help improve your health in a number of different ways. These benefits can help improve your HRV, the health of your parasympathetic nervous system, your longevity, and your mental health. Here are some of the ways going outside can help boost your overall well-being:
- Walking outside can improve your short-term memory
- Being outdoors can have a de-stressing effect
- Spending time outside can reduce inflammation
- Being outside can help eliminate fatigue
- Outdoor experiences can help fight depression and anxiety
- Going outside can protect your vision
- Spending time outside can lower your blood pressure
- It can improve your ability to focus
Even if you have a busy schedule, you should still try to sneak in some outdoor time. Even something as small as taking your dog on a 30-minute walk can greatly improve your health.
8. Drink Enough Water To Stay Hydrated
Dehydration can have a negative impact on your HRV. For example, athletes typically start training with normal body water content and become dehydrated throughout the course of an exercise. This water deficit can contribute to increased heart rate and therefore impaired HRV post-exercise. This can be harmful to our bodies, as HRV is an incredibly important part of post-exercise recovery.
The more dehydrated you are, the easier it is for your blood to circulate and deliver oxygen and nutrients to your body. You should try to drink close to one ounce of water per pound of body weight each day. Some of the best ways to stay hydrated include drinking a glass of water the moment you wake up, keeping track of how much water you drink, bringing a water bottle with you everywhere you go, and setting up reminders.
9. Practice Meditation Or Mindfulness
Practicing meditation can help support your heart in several different ways. It can help you cope with stress and lower your high blood pressure. It’s a great way to deal with mental stress and assess recovery. Reducing the amount of stress and anxiety you feel can help boost your HRV and lower your resting heart rate.
It takes time to learn meditation and build confidence in your ability. Experts recommend you begin small and give yourself space to progress at your own speed. To start, devote just five minutes per day and gradually increase the time and frequency until you can do it for up to 20 minutes. You should set up a schedule to help establish a routine.
How Do I Track My HRV?
If you’re looking to improve your cardiovascular health, monitoring HRV is incredibly important, especially post-exercise. If you have recently finished endurance training or weightlifting performance, you should focus on your recovery status. Here are some of the ways you can track your HRV:
- Apple watch
- Oura ring
- Whoop Band
With advances in technology, Apple Watch HRV accuracy is shockingly high. These new methods of measuring HRV use an optical sensor that measures inter-beat intervals. This is known as Photoplethysmography (PPG). PPG is an optical technique used to detect blood volume changes in the microvascular bed of tissue. This measures the blood movement at the skin surface. It doesn’t require electrodes or heart rate straps.
What is Training Adaptation and How Does it Help Recovery?
HRV can play a key role in the recovery period following an exercise and even the exercise intensity. In fact, elite athletes around the world use HRV to monitor individual adaptation to training. Decreases and increases in vagal-derived indices of HRV can indicate negative and positive adaptation to endurance training regimens.
One study found that there is a direct correlation between elite athletes, such as Olympic and World Champion athletes, and how HRV can affect recovery and performance.