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print articleHeart Rate Variability or HRV



There are hundreds of love songs on how unrequited love makes the heartbeat slow and heavy, and how the sight of the object of oneís desires turns the foolish heart into that of a hummingbird, beating 1,400 times a minute Ė or thatís how it feels, at least.

But there arenít that many, if any, songs about the time between those heartbeats.

Yet if an educated, modern-day lyricist were to write a song, thatís exactly what she would write about. According to a plethora of recent studies, the frequency of heartbeats and the regularity of those beats reveal an astonishing amount of things about the carrier of that heart.

The time between the beats

Most people would be surprised to learn that even the strongest, healthiest of hearts donít beat with the regularity of Swiss clockwork. Heart rate variability (HRV) Ė also commonly referred to as cycle length variability or RR variability Ė is the phenomenon of variation regarding the time interval between consecutive heartbeats.

Even when a personís heart rate is relatively stable Ė say, at a state of rest Ė the RR intervals (the times between heartbeats) vary quite substantially.

Heart rate variability can provide information on several factors related to cardiovascular health or mental stress, and it can also reveal a personís state and level of relaxation and sleep. This beat-to-beat interval has been the focus of an increasing number of studies, as reduced HRV has been found in groups of patients with health issues such as coronary heart disease, fibromyalgia, diabetes, congestive heart failure and even depression.

Heart rate variability and training

The interesting thing about heart rate variability for physically active people is its relationship to exercise. In fact, HRV has been shown to provide information on several factors related to cardiovascular health, aerobic fitness, and responsiveness to training. To put it simply, monitoring your HRV can help you see how your body is adapting to your training regime.

What, then, is a good, or ĒidealĒ, heart rate variability? And what gives us cause for concern?

Logically, it would make sense that a low variability would be the one to aim for. Since a low resting heart rate indicates a big, strong heart, then a low degree of variability must also signify that the heart is strong and doesnít react easily by changing its pacing, right?

High HRV indicates that the heart is functioning well and that the autonomic nervous system is adapting to the demands placed on it.

Wrong. In general, a higher variability is related to improved health. When looking at things in the long term, high HRV indicates that the heart is functioning well and that the autonomic nervous system is adapting to the demands placed on it.

A lower HRV, in turn, can be a warning sign of illness or an abnormal and insufficient adaptation system.

A lower HRV, in turn, can be a warning sign of illness or an abnormal and insufficient adaptation system. To simplify things again: if your HRV is slowly increasing over time, this probably means that your fitness is improving.

Any sudden changes in HRV could indicate that you havenít recovered properly, youíre under a lot of stress or youíre coming down with an illness.

So how can I measure my HRV?

First of all, HRV measurement requires ECG-based heart rate readings, so youíll need a chest strap heart rate sensor, such as Polar H10.

Youíll also need a Polar product that includes the Orthostatic Test, such as the Polar V800 GPS sportswatch or the Polar M460 GPS cycling computer.

The Orthostatic Test is a test that monitors the training-induced changes in the function of your autonomic nervous system. It measures your heart rate and RR intervals both at rest and standing up and displays these values as a result in Polar Flow.

There are many factors that affect the results of your Orthostatic Test, such as mental stress, sleep, latent illness and environmental changes (temperature, altitude) to mention a few.

Changes in heart rate and HRV are always individual, and this is why you should do the test regularly to establish your individual baseline. To make sure that your results are as reliable as possible, you need to perform the test in similar conditions every time Ė we recommend that you take the test in the morning before breakfast.

Once you have your baseline set, you can start following the results. Polar Flow shows you your average heart rate and HRV values, and if they are slowly increasing over time, youíre probably making steady progress in your training. Sudden deviations from the averages could signify that something is off-balance.


        Itís the time interval between heartbeats

        Itís affected by aerobic fitness

        Other factors that affect HRV are e.g. age, genetics, time of day, and health status

        A high HRV indicates a healthy heart

        During exercise, HRV decreases as HR and exercise intensity increase

        HRV also decreases during periods of mental stress

        You can monitor your HRV with Polarís Orthostatic Test on Polar V800 and Polar M460


This post is one of our Letís Talk Polar articles. Be prepared to dig deep (and this time we really mean deep) into the world of heart rate, sports and science with topics, like training load and recovery.

It has only been five decades since scientists began to alter their long-held belief that the human bodyís cells, tissues and organs, particularly the heart, strive to maintain a constant static or steady state.

"We now know that the normal resting rhythm of the heart is highly variable rather than being monotonously regular, which was the widespread notion for many years," write the authors of a new article slated to appear in the January issue of Global Advances in Health and Medicine (GAHM), a professional journal.

Variability in heart rhythms, which is gaining scientists' attention around the world today, is the subject of their article, Heart Rate Variability: New Perspectives on the Physiological Mechanisms, and Assessment of Self-Regulatory Capacity and Health Risk. The authors are HeartMath Institute (HMI) Director of Research Rollin McCraty, Ph.D. and Fred Shaffer, Ph.D., BCB of the Center for Applied Psychophysiology, Truman State University, Kirksville, Mo.

Heart rate variability, the change in the time intervals between adjacent heartbeats, is directly related to the body's interdependent regulatory systems and ultimately, their efficiency and health. "An optimal level of HRV within an organism reflects healthy function and an inherent self-regulatory capacity, adaptability, or resilience," McCraty and Shaffer write.

Although generally the greater the HRV, the better, they note that too much variability, or instability "such as arrhythmias or nervous system chaos is detrimental to efficient physiological functioning and energy utilizationÖ "Too little variation indicates age-related system depletion, chronic stress, pathology, or inadequate functioning in various levels of self-regulatory control systems."

The GAHM article cites much of the pivotal heart rate variability research since 1965, when HRV began to be recognized for its importance in indicating or predicting various risk factors. Among these are fetal distress, autonomic nervous system dysfunction, heart disease, anxiety, depression and asthma among other health conditions.

Many studies, including some conducted by McCraty and others at HMI, correlate an optimal level of HRV, or HRV coherence and coherence training, such as that using HeartMath self-regulation techniques, to a variety of benefits. Among the results of these studies were enhanced cognitive function in a range of age groups and greater functional capacity in heart-congestive patients.

Improvements were demonstrated in a study employing coherence training with a group of middle school students with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Improvements were shown in their short- and long-term memory, ability to focus and behaviors at home and school.

"A study of recently returning soldiers from Iraq who were diagnosed with PTSD," the article states, "found that relatively brief periods of HRV coherence training combined with practicing the (HeartMath) Quick Coherenceģ Technique resulted in significant improvements in the ability to self-regulate along with significant improvements in a wide range of cognitive functions, which correlated with increased cardiac coherence."

A range of positive health-related outcomes also has been demonstrated in studies with correctional officers who participated in coherence training, McCraty and Shaffer explain. In one study conducted by McCraty, correctional officers improved their blood pressure, total cholesterol and fasting glucose levels and reduced overall stress and fatigue. Similar results were achieved with police officers.

In conclusion, McCraty and Shaffer write, "Numerous studies have provided evidence that coherence training consisting of intentional activation of positive emotions paired with HRV coherence feedback facilitates significant improvements in wellness and well-being indicators in a variety of populations."


Date Inserted: 17 June 2018
Last Updated: 29 July 2018
Have questions or comments on this article? email me


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