Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is the measure of biological age. Using it to gain an objective assessment of your Autonomic Nervous System is a huge advantage in gauging progress toward the ultimate goal of living longer with better health and energy so we can then continue to develop cognitively and emotionally and maintain full social, intellectual, artistic, and sexual lives.
Living Longer, Stronger, Healthier
The body’s inherent ability to heal and self-stabilize erodes with age; the older we get the more we tend to lose energy, memory, and resilience to stress. It becomes harder to mend from injuries or illness and can take days to recover from workouts or overindulgence. We also are more likely to develop diabetes, hypertension, heart failure, and other afflictions as we age. Extending our lifespan does no good if it means poorer health and higher healthcare costs. The goal is to live healthier and stronger, which ultimately means you will also live longer.
The comedian George Burns once said, “You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old,” and we tend to agree! You can’t do anything about your chronological age, but you can definitely change your biological age. Studies show biological age is a better measure for determining health status and risk than chronological age. The Kaplan Center’s Anti-Aging treatments aim to provide the maintenance needed to return the body to a more youthful state.
What is Heart Rate Variability (HRV)?
Heart rate variability is the variation in the time interval between consecutive heartbeats. Unlike a metronome that beats at precise one-second intervals at a rate of 60 beats per minute, a healthy heart might beat at .87 seconds, .93 seconds, 1.03 seconds, and so on. Such variation is important as it indicates the heart’s ability to respond to its environment, both internal and external, whether that is mental stress, physical exercise, metabolic change, or sleep. A strong and supple rubber band can be stretched in any direction and snap right back. However, a rubber band that is old and brittle will no longer have the flexibility to withstand much stress and may never regain its equilibrium. A system with high HRV shows that same strong and vibrant flexibility. The higher the HRV, the more resilient and robust the system.
“Fight or Flight” versus “Rest and Digest”
HRV is a biomarker of the balance in the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)
HRV gives us a glimpse into the health of our autonomic nervous system, the part of the body that unconsciously controls vital functions such as heartbeat, blood pressure, breathing, and digestion. The ANS is tied to every automatic process in the body and is comprised of two main branches that work together to control the body’s stress and recovery processes. Under stress, one branch of your nervous system, the “fight or flight” branch, becomes very active. When this happens, HRV goes down and there is an imbalance between the two branches. In an ideal situation, the stress is only temporary, the “rest, digest, and recover” branch of the nervous system kicks in causing the HRV to go up again, and the nervous system returns to equilibrium. However, a busy, frenetic, and stressful lifestyle can cause the imbalance to persist throwing the system into a chronic state of fight or flight. Because this shift happens at such a gradual pace, we might not even notice there is a problem. In fact, a chronic state of fight or flight can become so familiar that any other way of being can just feel wrong and unfamiliar. Since the insidious effect of long-term stress may be the single most harmful assault against our body’s health, getting an objective measure of it is important. HRV biofeedback is a simple, noninvasive, and accurate measure of stress in our nervous system and of our overall health.
Stress depletes energy and disrupts thoughts
Emotions, even more than thoughts, activate and drive the physiological changes in the stress response. Feelings of anxiety, irritation, frustration, impatience, and hopelessness are what people mean when they say they are “stressed out.” For optimal health and resilience, it is important to regulate emotional reactions because they are what push the imbalance in the nervous system. The heart is a key component of the emotional system and negative emotions sap our energy and rob us of the ability to think clearly. You can either deplete or renew your physical, mental, and emotional energy reserves.
HeartMath HRV: Biohack for Better Energy and Better Brain
HeartMath developed an HRV-based program to transform a chronic state of energy depletion caused by stress into health, resilience, and vitality. It is based on a simple but powerful self-regulation technique called “heart coherence” that trains you to consciously turn off the stress response and increase your personal stress tolerance. You simply sit quietly using biofeedback to synchronize your brain, breath, and heart for optimal stress resistance. The program includes a professional assessment program for healthcare clinics and can also include a small handheld or phone device for personal use. Using HeartMath on a daily basis is one of the easiest and most important bio-hacks available to improve mental performance and live a longer, fuller, and healthier life.