By Lisa Newman
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a measurement of your overall wellbeing. Specifically, HRV measures the variability of the time between your heartbeats. Greater variability equals more flexibility and greater physical resiliency. The amount of variability reliably predicts whether you are in physiological stress or relaxation. It’s the basis for the popular Heart Math program, and other programs you may have heard about that monitor stress levels.
The easiest way to get started monitoring HRV is to use one of the popular apps such as Welltory or Elite HRV. (Note: I am certified in the Foundations of Heart Rate Variability by Elite HRV.) These are free from your app store although more advanced features require a subscription. Be aware that HRV measurements taken by fitness tracking watches or jewelry are not proven to be accurate and are not recommended.
You can take a measurement by placing your finger over the rear camera of your smart phone after indicating in the app that you want to take a measurement. Use of a heart rate monitor around your chest or finger will increase the accuracy of some of the advanced measurements but these devices aren’t necessary.
The primary measurement we want to track is a single number often converted to a scale of 1 – 100 and reported as your HRV. (This is actually the RMSSD or square root of the mean of the squared differences between successive RR intervals.) Different apps present this differently and may provide analysis rather than a single number. I’ve found the Elite HRV app is best for straight forward simplified tracking and the Welltory app is best if you want analysis and insights.
A higher number is better, but only compare against yourself, and only after establishing a baseline for a minimum of two weeks. (HRV naturally reduces with age so a fit 50 year old may have lower HRV than an average 20 year old.)
Different apps and measuring devices use different scales so be consistent in using one.
Take a measurement of two minutes in the same body, back, and head position first thing in the morning each day while breathing normally. This is your morning readiness score.
Pay attention only to the Time Domain parameters. Measures of Frequency Domain parameters requires longer measurement periods and more accurate measuring devices.
Pay attention to how you are feeling internally at each measurement. This will help you gain body wisdom. The goal is for you to eventually not need to measure HRV in order to know that you are tired and at risk of getting sick, or rested and ready to be productive.
Be aware that these apps and their algorithms have limitations and are only one indicator of health.
Finally, don’t freak out if the app reports that your para-sympathetic (relaxation state) is consistently low. This is common in women, but particularly common in those with a history of eating and body issues, trauma, or stress. I can get this sorted for you and provide you direction for improvement. Click here to get on my calendar for a no obligation appointment to help you get on a better path.
You can find more in-depth information about HRV in this video and article.