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What is Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and how to improve it?

Geschreven door: Stefanie Broes



Tijd om te lezen 4 min

Did you know your heart rate can tell you more than you think? By examining your heart rate closely, you can measure your HRV, for example. HRV, or heart rate variability, is the variation in time between consecutive heartbeats. It can be measured and analysed to understand our autonomic nervous system's health. HRV is an important indicator of the balance between our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and therefore has much relevance in stress and performance.

What is HRV?

HRV indicates the time between each heartbeat. Important to understand, this is not the same as the heart rate itself. HRV provides information about the speed and efficiency of our autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is the system in your body that works largely unconsciously and manages many essential body functions, such as your heart rate, digestion, breathing, blood pressure... The autonomic nervous system consists of two branches: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.

HRV is measured using several methods, including time-domain, frequency-domain, and non-linear analyses. A time domain analysis measures the variation between consecutive heartbeats on different scales and can be measured using long-term recordings (e.g. 24 hours) or short-term recordings of a few minutes. Using short-term or long-term recordings, you can perform frequency domain analysis and analyse the various frequencies. The non-linear analysis examines the heart rate pattern's structure and/or complexity.

How to measure HRV?

There are several ways to measure your HRV. The most reliable way to measure HRV is by using a heart rate monitor specifically designed to measure HRV. Those monitors measure the time between heartbeats and provide information on heart rate variability. There are several types of heart rate monitors on the market, including:

  1. Electrocardiogram monitor (ECG): the most accurate monitor to measure HRV, but they are expensive and require professional installation.
  2. Photoplethysmography monitor (PPG): This instrument is a cheaper alternative to the ECG monitor used to measure HRV. It is less accurate than an ECG monitor but is easier to use and does not require professional installation.
  3. Biofeedback: Biofeedback allows you to measure your HRV and influence it using relaxation techniques. With this method, your HRV data is displayed live on a screen, allowing the person to see how their HRV responds to relaxation exercises such as breathing techniques.
  4. Tools and wearables: There are many wearables and tools on the market that measure HRV, including smartwatches and tactile breathing coaches, such as moonbird. Some use biofeedback to display HRV. These tools are useful because they are easy to use and versatile, but the accuracy of HRV measurements can vary.

Regardless of which method you choose, it is good to know that factors such as stress, effort and even breathing can affect HRV, so it is important to measure your HRV in a consistent scenario to get an accurate result.

HRV and health

HRV is an important indicator of our health, autonomic nervous, and cardiovascular systems. Low HRV is associated with old age and various health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, inflammation and sleep problems. It can also be a sign that you have not yet recovered properly from an illness or surgery. So measuring your HRV can also be useful to monitor recovery from illness and surgery. If your HRV is low, you can increase it by, for example, breathing exercises or meditation.

HRV and stress

Stress has a significant impact on your HRV. In situations of acute stress, HRV often decreases, while in situations of chronic stress, HRV is always low. A low HRV can potentially be an indication of depression, cognitive problems or heart problems. HRV can therefore be used as a tool to measure and manage stress. Breathing exercises and other relaxation techniques can increase HRV and help with stress management.

HRV and performance

HRV can not only be an indicator of health and stress levels, but it can also influence your performance. This applies to both sports performance and cognitive performance. HRV can be used as a measurement tool to assess and improve your performance.

Several studies have been carried out on the connection between HRV and sports performance. One study showed that athletes with a higher HRV performed better and had fewer injuries than those with a low HRV.

Cognitive performance can be affected by HRV as well. Research has shown that people with a higher HRV perform better on cognitive tasks, such as memory and attention. In addition, HRV can also affect sleep quality and overall mood, both of which can affect cognitive performance.

There are several ways to improve your HRV. Stress management and relaxation techniques, such as meditation and breathing exercises, can help improve your HRV. Regular exercise can also help improve HRV. It is important to know that time and consistency are needed to make effective lifestyle changes to increase your HRV.

How can moonbird help you to increase your HRV?

Moonbird has a dual function. To begin with, the device intuitively guides you through breathing slowly through the tactile stimulus in your hand: you inhale when the moonbird expands, and exhale when it contracts again. And secondly, moonbird provides biofeedback on your heart rate and HRV, so you can instantly see the impact of calming breathing exercises on your body, and whether you are doing them correctly.

You can find this biofeedback in moonbird's app. In a diagram, you can see how your heart rate synchronises with your breathing: your heart rate increases slightly with each inhalation and decreases with each exhalation. This maximises the variation between your heart rates. You can see how your heart rate variability gradually increases, usually fluctuating between 0 and 20 bpm (beats per minute), with higher being better.

When your heart rate and breathing are in sync, you are breathing coherently. Through practice, improve your coherence level by moving from unbalanced (light blue) to balanced, coherent breathing (dark blue). It is also possible to view your stats afterwards in the app.

Try moonbird for 30 days risk-free, without any obligation. You only pay when you decide to keep your moonbird. The most important thing for us is that moonbird works for you.

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