August 2023

What is Heart Rate Variability and Why Does it Matter?

You may have seen or heard references to the term “heart rate variability” and that it’s a way of assessing one’s heart health. But you’re probably wondering what it is, how you can measure it and what it implies for your health and lifestyle. Let’s explore all of this and more.

Heart rate variability (HRV) is the variation in time intervals between successive heartbeats. In other words, it’s the changes in the time gap between one heartbeat and the next. Let’s use an example. Say your heart rate is 60 beats per minute. That doesn’t mean your heart is necessarily beating exactly once every second. The time between each beat can vary slightly. The difference in the time between each beat is called heart rate variability. 

Why Does Heart Rate Variability Matter?

HRV is an important measure of the activity of your autonomic nervous system, particularly the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches. The autonomic nervous system is the part of the peripheral nervous system that controls involuntary processes in our body, like heart rate, digestion, and respiratory rate. Here’s how it works:

1. Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS): This is often called the “fight or flight” system. When you’re stressed or faced with a threat, your SNS gets activated, leading to increased heart rate and readiness for action.

2. Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS): This is known as the “rest and digest” system. It helps you relax, recover, and conserve energy. When you’re at ease and feeling safe, the PNS dominates, leading to a slower heart rate and improved digestion.

Both branches are continuously active, but their balance shifts based on your current state, emotions, and environment. This is where heart rate variability comes into play.

High vs Low Heart Rate Variability

Higher HRV is generally considered a sign of good heart health and better adaptability to stress. When your heart rate varies more between beats, it indicates a higher parasympathetic tone and a flexible and responsive autonomic nervous system. This means your body can quickly switch between being alert and being calm, depending on the situation. This adaptability is essential for maintaining overall health and resilience.

On the other hand, lower HRV is associated with a lower parasympathetic tone, which correlates with various health issues and increased stress levels. Reduced HRV may be linked to chronic stress, anxiety, and certain heart conditions.

How and Why to Monitor Your Heart Rate Variability

Monitoring heart rate variability can offer valuable insights into your overall well-being, stress levels, and cardiovascular health. In a medical setting, HRV is measured using an EKG, but these days there are numerous trackers available for personal use. Measuring and monitoring your heart rate variability over time is a useful way to receive feedback on your body’s response to different situations and activities.

So, the next time you hear about heart rate variability, remember that it’s all about the beautiful dance between your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems – keeping your heart adaptable, healthy, and in tune with your emotions and environment. And if your measurements indicate that your heart rate variability is reduced or is lowering over time, consult a medical professional to help you devise strategies to improve your baseline and optimise your HRV.

The Paradox of Self-Love: Embracing Your Body for Better Heart Health

In today’s society, there’s an overwhelming focus on achieving a certain body weight, shape or size. We’re continually bombarded with messages that tell us we must change our bodies to fit into a narrowly defined notion of beauty. But it’s important to recognize that there’s an important dynamic that exists within the journey towards weight- and health management: paradoxically, loving and respecting your body as it is, becomes the first step to treating it well and ultimately arriving at better health, including a healthy weight.

Embracing Self-Acceptance: Nurturing Your Body as it is

Embracing your body as it is right now does not mean complacency or resignation. Instead, it involves shifting your mindset and developing a positive relationship with your body. When you love and respect your body, you’re more inclined to listen to its needs and make choices that promote overall health and well-being.

One of the key aspects of loving and respecting your body is practicing self-acceptance. This means recognizing that your worth is not determined by your appearance, but rather by your inherent value as a human being. It involves acknowledging that your body is unique and deserving of love and care, regardless of its size or shape.

When you embrace self-acceptance, you are more likely to engage in behaviors that support your overall health. Rather than punishing your body with restrictive diets or excessive exercise, you prioritize nourishing it with balanced meals, regular physical activity, and sufficient rest. You approach these practices from a place of self-care and self-compassion, rather than from a position of self-criticism or shame.

Listening to Your Body’s Wisdom: Honoring Hunger, Fullness, and Movement

Furthermore, when you love and respect your body, you become more attuned to its signals and messages. You develop a deeper understanding of its hunger and fullness cues, as well as its need for movement and rest. By listening to your body’s natural wisdom, you are better equipped to make choices that align with its needs, leading to a healthier relationship with food and exercise.

Contrastingly, when you approach weight loss or achieving a specific body size from a place of self-hatred or dissatisfaction, it often leads to a cycle of unhealthy behaviors. Restrictive diets, extreme exercise regimens, and constant self-criticism can result in negative physical and emotional consequences. This approach often leads to short-term results, if any, and a perpetual cycle of yo-yo dieting.

Treating your body well is not about conforming to societal standards or chasing an unrealistic ideal. It is about recognizing that your body deserves to be cared for and nurtured, regardless of its size or shape. When you approach health and weight management from a place of self-love and respect, you are more likely to make sustainable, long-term changes that promote overall well-being.

The True Definition of Health: A Holistic Approach to Well-Being

It is important to remember that health is not solely determined by a number on the scale. It encompasses physical, mental, and emotional well-being. By embracing self-love and self-acceptance, you create the foundation for a holistic approach to health. As you treat your body with kindness and respect, you naturally gravitate towards behaviors that support its overall health and balance.

Loving and respecting your body as it is becomes the first step towards treating it well and achieving a healthy weight, which will help to improve your heart health. Embracing self-acceptance and practicing self-care allow you to make choices that support your body’s needs and promote overall well-being. Remember, your worth is not defined by your appearance, but rather by the love and care you show yourself.