Why You Need to Care About Heart Rate Variability and Recovery

If you’re closely monitoring your fitness level and metrics, then you’ve probably heard of HRV — heart rate variability. There's plenty of talk about this certain marker, with several applications and gadgets developed by various companies, dedicated to helping people monitor their HRV levels during sleep, recovery, or when they’re working out. In fact, Atlas Wearables closely tracks it.

HRV is kind of the hot new metric that athletes care about right now, especially when it comes to fitness wearables. But what exactly is HRV and why is it so important? We’re discussing this and more in this blog.

What is Heart Rate Variability?

Let's back up for a moment.

Heart rate variability, or HRV, is a growing area of health research. It measures the fluctuation of the time intervals between adjacent heartbeats. A normal, healthy heart doesn’t produce a steady pulse. There is constant variation in the time interval between beats.

In fact, variability in the heart is considered very healthy. HRV is the metric used to determine how long that interval is in between heartbeats. Moreover, it helps you determine how your body is responding to stress.

man stressed

A higher HRV score generally indicates good heart health, aerobic fitness, and younger biological age. However, while a low HRV may indicate the opposite, it isn’t always necessarily bad. There are other factors that can affect your HRV that are worth taking note of.

What Causes Variability?

HRV varies almost every day. Your HRV is affected by various aspects including respiration (inhalation and exhalation), metabolic processes, hormonal reactions, cognitive processes, stress, movements, changes in posture, emotions, and recovery. If any of these factors change, then your HRV levels may be affected.

Normally, if you're stressed or engaging in strenuous exercises, there is less variability in the intervals in between your heart’s beat, and so your HRV decreases. When you’re relaxed or if your body is aerobically fit, then you get a lot of variabilities, and thus, your HRV increases.

How HRV Differs From "Heart Rate"

Heart rate is measured in beats per minute and records the average number at a given period. However, HRV measures the intervals between heartbeats in milliseconds. 

As we explained, having a higher HRV — meaning having more variability in your heart rate — is a good thing. This is why a higher HRV reflects a more relaxed state. Your heart beats as it wants to.

On the flip side, when you're stressed (even if you're sleeping!) and your heart is beating like crazy, it's moving so quickly that the variability diminishes.

While heart rate is often best used for monitoring the effect of training on your cardiovascular system (and your Atlas watch will of course track this, including your resting heart rate), HRV is designed to monitor the body’s ability to tolerate stress.

HRV and Fitness

High HRV is seen as an indicator of good heart health, and people who have higher fitness levels often have high HRV.

athletes running

You can use HRV apps and devices to plan your workouts. For instance, you can schedule your workouts when you see high HRV scores and take some rest when your HRV scores are low.

Monitoring your HRV scores enables you to determine when you’re healthy enough to proceed with performing more strenuous exercises, and likewise, when you might want to take it slow.

5 Tips for Improving Your HRV Score

The average HRV score is about 59. Although your HRV varies often, and it’s normal to occasionally go above or beyond that, monitoring your HRV score and making sure that it’s as close to the average as often as possible ensures that you’re healthy enough to proceed with your regular tasks safely.

After all, a good HRV score is nearly synonymous to good overall health. Here are some tips to help you improve your HRV.

1. Get Enough Sleep

    Getting enough sleep can help improve your HRV score. You don't need us to tell you that there's a connection between sleep and stress levels. Getting enough sleep can help combat stress, and as a result, it can also help increase your HRV score.

    Keep a closer eye on your sleep by tracking it with your Atlas Wearables watch.

    2. Practice Slow, Deep Breathing

      We’ve already established how stress can negatively affect your HRV. In today’s busy environment, it’s easy to get into stressful scenarios — an argument at work, issues at home, money issues, etc.

      Whenever you feel like you’re getting too overwhelmed, take a break and practice slow, deep breathing. Think of breathing into your ribcage and your belly. Be present and mindful.

      breathe

      It’s also good to make a few minutes of meditation a normal part of your daily routine. Science has repeatedly found that meditation is beneficial to your health.

      3. Train Easier

        Plenty of fitness-related posts tell us to train hard. While it's advantageous to push yourself, you also have to keep your own body’s state in mind. If you find that your HRV scores are low and you’re not feeling your best, you can skip the high-intensity workout and go for easier training, at least for the time being.

        You can proceed with more challenging exercises when your HRV scores are back up. Follow what the data tells you.

        4. Eat Plenty of Green, Leafy Vegetables

          If you want to improve your HRV score, then you might want to start eating plenty of green, leafy vegetables. Studies have found that consumption of these types of vegetables has led to favorable changes in the cardiac autonomic function, and as a result, helped increase HRV scores.

          5. Pay Attention to Your Recovery

            It’s true that getting regular exercise is important. Many of us go to the gym and push their bodies to train hard and train often. Bear in mind, though, that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

            Training too intensely or too frequently without giving your body sufficient time to rest and recover could have the opposite effect. Aside from preventing muscle repair and development and causing fatigue, this could also result in lower HRV scores.

            So, when you’re planning your workout, don’t forget to include your rest days. That way, you can get the most out of your exercise. If you want to move at least a little bit, active recovery — think rowing, yoga, or a brisk walk — is an excellent idea.

            three women doing yoga

            Keeping your heart healthy is highly important. However, today’s sedentary lifestyle often prevents that. Remember to make yourself a priority. Keeping track of your HRV scores and responding accordingly to the results is only one of the steps to make sure that your body’s in top shape.

            Stay healthy by maintaining an active lifestyle, eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep and sufficient time to recover, and by monitoring your body’s state.