What is Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and why is everyone talking about it?
The HeartMath Institute (HMI) has conducted broad and valuable research since 1991 on Heart-Brain interactions, the physiology of stress, body and mind’s learning ability and optimal physical and mental performances. The result of HMI’s research has helped the team to conduct ongoing development of technologies to improve individuals’ health and wellbeing through self-regulation and heart-brain coherence.
The Heart’s communication pathway
It is now proven that the heart is not just a pumping machine, but a highly complex and self-organized information processing center. (HeartMath Institute Manual 2019. Timothy Culbert MD, FAAP, IFMCP). The heart constantly communicates with the brain and the rest of the body through the nervous and endocrine systems. That is why this discovery has created so much interest in further research and clinical studies.
How does the body respond to daily events?
Before we talk about HRV, it is important to understand how our physiology responds to the daily events of our lives. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) and the endocrine (hormonal) system are responsible for this response . ANS has two branches of Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). When we are involved in our daily tasks such as studying, working, exercising, driving, etc…the SNS is activated. SNS is also active during any physiological, emotional and mental threat or exposure to pathogens, pain, injury, etc. This activation releases the chemicals or hormones called cortisol and adrenaline which in turn increase the heart beat, blood pressure, strength, focus and stamina (Gedam & Paul 2021). The above mentioined hormones are also responsible for helping us in developing a protection strategy when the fight or flight response kicks in.
When we are resting, sleeping, meditating or recovering from previous fight or flight states, the PNS branch of the nervous system is activated which in turn causes the release of chemicals from anti-inflammatory pathways to promote rest, digestion, lower heart rate and reduction of inflammation that is induced by high SNS activation (Owens 2020).
Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
HRV is a measuring system for the time between each heartbeat. The reason for the importance of this measurement is that it reflects the way our body handles and reacts to physical, mental and emotional challenges.
The relationship between ANS and HRV
When the SNS branch of the nervous system takes over, the HRV decreases. The opposite is also true that when PNS is activated the HRV increases. Observations of HRV rates can help us with more optimized performance strategies as well as improving the effectiveness of nutrition and exercise programs.
Examples of a few causes of reduced HRV
There are many case studies of different physiological, mental and emotional challenges observed through HRV measuring techniques. These case studies are opening the doors to better understanding the communication pathways between the heart and brain and the rest of the body.
Followings are a few examples that can reduce HRV rates:
-Stress (chronic and acute)
-Excessive consumption of pro-inflammatory food and drinks (Young & Benton 2018, Sturven et-al 2022)
-Shock and Trauma
-Exposure to pathogens such as viruses and bacteria
-High altitude activities (such as mountain climbing)
-Insomnia and poor sleep
-Pain (chronic and acute)
-And many more
HMI has developed technologies and practices that will help increase the HRV and optimize physiological, mental and emotional states. Through coherence building techniques that are taught to health and wellness practitioners and enthusiasts, the HearthMath Institute has helped many people by bringing awareness to the importance of coherence building techniques in our daily lives.
At Personal Best
We will soon add the HearthMath technology to the list of offered services.
Please stay tuned for future articles and announcements.
by Sara Namazi, DHMHS
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