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What increases and decreases Heart Rate Variability (HRV)?

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) which indicates how much the interval between two contractions fluctuates, is an excellent tool in monitoring your own recovery, performance, and overall wellness. Higher HRV has been found to be associated with reduced mortality, and improved psychological well-being and quality of life.

But your HRV is not to be compared to the others. Everyone has their own baseline and you have to compare your daily HRV with your own baseline to find out if it is higher or lower than your baseline. Knowing that your baseline reflects a neutral state where you normally feel.

Besides physiological factors, in general terms, HRV should increase during relaxing activities, for example, sleep or meditation and on the other hand, HRV naturally decreases during an effort or stress. 

So what are the physiological factors, lifestyle habits and external factors that influence your HRV?

Circular Factors Influencing HRV


Physiological factors

Non-influenceable physiological factors include age and gender. After reaching the age of 15, HRV decreases as we grow older. It also seems clear that there is a difference between men and women in the way the autonomous nervous system is regulated and thus in the sympathetic-parasympathetic balance, and this manifests itself in differing HRVs. This difference between genders seems to become less prominent when people reach the age of 50, a fact that is attributed to the postmenopausal hormonal changes that take place with women.

Pain and Sickness

The effects of pain and sickness on HRV have been examined in many studies. HRV is lower among people with sickness or pain than among healthy persons.

Physical exercises

While your short term HRV will lower during physical activities, people who have an active lifestyle and maintain a good or high level of physical fitness or above average sporting activity can achieve an increase of their HRV baseline.

However a cumulative or too intensive sporting activity (e.g. long competition series, overtraining) will lower your long term HRV.

The best way to increase your HRV gradually is to introduce regular aerobic exercises into your routine. Even if you only exercise a little, it counts. However, the American Heart and Stroke Association recommends moderate to intense exercise for at least 2.5 hours a week, provided you are in good health. Fast walking is a good example of this type of exercise.

  • Try to do 40 minutes of moderate to intense exercise three to four times a week.
  • Also, do stretching and flexibility exercises such as yoga.
  • Try to combine these exercises with two strength-training sessions per week.

Studies show adaptation after several months of training. When starting an endurance sport, it is essential to start slowly and increase the duration, frequency and, intensity of exercise as you go along.

Improved sleep

Sleep is the foundation of good wellness, the more rested you are and the more in shape you will be. Give your body time to regenerate. Try to get as much Deep sleep as you can. It is the one that will regenerate you the most and increase your HRV further. Without rest, your HRV can only be low.

You can read the article about Tips to increase your Deep sleep.

Healthy Diet

Elevated body weight or elevated free-fat correlates with a decrease in HRV.

In addition to good sleep, practice a healthy diet. When you are overweight, your heart works harder to pump your blood through your whole body, thus increasing your baseline HRV.

Avoid smoking

Both active and passive smoking leads to an increase in HRV.

Medications

Several medications have a direct or indirect influence on HRV.

Avoid alcohol

Alcohol consumption has been shown to be associated with a decrease in HRV.

Reduce your stress level

It is not easy to reduce your stress level, but it will increase for sure your HRV. Try to take some time every day to relax and take a deep breath.

Noise

Exposure to noise leads to a decrease in HRV because it increases sympathetic nervous system activity.

Practice meditation and breathing exercises

Meditation and relaxation training will help you increase your HRV and improve your overall wellness. One of the most important sets of breathing exercises is ancient Pranayama breathing exercises. These exercises have been utilized for centuries by Yogi’s to greatly improve overall health while at the same time increasing your natural defense. This is the 4-7-8 method.

You can read the article on How to lower your time to fall asleep to know more about the 4-7-8 method.

About the Author

Laurent Bsalis

Laurent is passionate about biohacking and tries his best to be a better version himself. He also eats too much ice cream which is a problem.

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