Heart Rate Variability

What is Heart Rate Variability (HRV)?

Heart rate variability (HRV) is the measure of biological age, and more specifically, 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.

What is an HRV Assessment?

An HRV assessment can indicate one’s overall health and fitness and physiological resilience. The rhythm and patterns of HRV reflect a person’s emotional state.

Why is this important?

The amount of HRV is a measure of one’s resilience, vitality, self-regulatory capacity, and functional status. Chronic emotional and physical stress depletes the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) – the part of the body that unconsciously controls vital functions such as heartbeat, blood pressure, breathing, and digestion – which is reflected in low HRV.


HeartMath Biofeedback

The HeartMath Institute, a non-profit organization, developed an HRV-based program to transform a chronic state of energy depletion caused by stress into health, resilience, and vitality.

The goal is to teach how to bring your brain, mind, body, and emotions into balance.  Specifically, it teaches you to synchronize your breathing with your heart rhythms while focusing on positive emotions.  The benefits of positive emotions are:

  • Increased longevity
  • Increased resilience to adversity
  • Improved memory
  • Effective problem-solving
  • Increased cognitive flexibility, creativity, and intelligence
  • Improved job performance and achievement
  • Increased happiness

By synchronizing your breathing with your heart rhythms while focusing on positive emotions you can reduce the negative effects of stress and build resilience and replenish the ANS.

How is it measured?

The program uses an ear sensor with an infrared pulse plethysmograph (ppg). Finger sensors are also an option, but the ear provides a more accurate measurement. This technology takes a pulse reading from your earlobe and translates the information from your heart rhythms into graphics on the computer screen.

What is measured?

The sensor measures the amount of HRV (i.e. how much variability is occurring) and the rhythms and patterns contained in the HRV which are more reflective of emotional states. Thus, using HRV it is possible to assess:

  • how much variability is occurring (the amplitude of the wave) and
  • the pattern of the heart rhythm (coherent or incoherent).

The rhythm of your heartbeat affects how you think and feel, and you can learn to shift your heart rhythm to increase your emotional composure and clear thinking.

What are the negative effects of long-term stress?

Chronic stress depletes the autonomic nervous system and results in feelings of exhaustion, fatigue, sleep disorders, and body aches and is associated with a significantly increased risk of serious health problems.  Specifically, the stress-related disorders and medical conditions associated with depletion of the autonomic nervous system include depression, panic disorder, fatigue, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, ischemic heart disease, coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure, hypertension, weight gain, and alcoholism (see cites below).

Chronic stress can result in high levels of cortisol and low levels of DHEA. According to the latest research high cortisol/ low DHEA levels can result in the following:

  • Accelerated aging
  • Brain-cell death
  • Impaired memory and learning
  • Decreased bone density, osteoporosis
  • Reduced muscle mass
  • Reduced skin growth and regeneration
  • Impaired immune function
  • Increased blood sugar
  • Increased fat accumulation around the waist and hips

We are here for you, and we want to help.

Our goal is to return you to optimal health as soon as possible. To schedule an appointment please call: 703-532-4892 x2

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