What if we had a simple way to measure your overall health and could predict disease with one measurement? Good news—it’s called Heart Rate Variability—and we have it in our office! Let’s take a look at what heart rate variability is, and why it’s such a great indicator of a person’s overall health!
What is Heart Rate Variability?
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a non-invasive measurement used to assess the function of the nervous system and heart health. Most people think the heart beats at constant rate all of the time. Actually, it speeds up when you inhale and slows down when you exhale. This variation in heart beat is what is known as heart rate variability.
Why Heart Rate Variability is Important1
Your body is constantly trying to adapt to its surroundings. Think about all the information around you that your brain takes in and figures out what to do with: Light, sound, temperature, blood sugar, hormones, smell, stress, and much more! The better the body and nervous system are able to regulate balance, the healthier you are. As you become unable to adapt to all this stress and information, the sicker you become. Heart rate variability is one of the best ways to assess how our bodies are staying in balance. Just as your inability to stay in balance results in sickness, a decrease in HRV has been shown to be the single most common risk factor for many chronic diseases like diabetes, chronic fatigue, heart failure, neurologic disorders, and many more!
Heart Rate Variability: The Key to Health?
Heart Rate Variability is a reflection of the balance between the sympathetic nervous system, or better known as the “Fight or Flight” response, and the parasympathetic nervous system, known as the “Rest and Digest” response. I often talk to patients in the office about activating the Vagus Nerve to stimulate the Rest and Digest, Parasympathetic system through breathing. This Vagus Nerve activation also helps to normalize our HRV. The parasympathetics put the brakes on the Fight or Flight Stress response. This allows us to get out of survival mode and into healing mode.
Vagus Nerve3: The Vagus Nerve is a parasympathetic nerve. If the function of the Vagus Nerve is disrupted, healing and learning are also extremely impaired. It has recently been found that the Vagus Nerve plays a role in stopping runaway, chronic inflammation. A great blood marker of inflammation is C-reactive Protein, or CRP. Since the Vagus Nerve helps control inflammation and re
gulate Heart Rate Variability, it is understandable that as Vagus Nerve function is disturbed, CRP goes up while HRV goes down, and vice versa. This means that health and healing capabilities are declining. Some of you may have heard me say, “sitting is the new smoking.” Well, research has shown that people who are the most active, also have the lowest CRP, or less inflammation, and higher HRV, or a better working Vagus Nerve!
Internet Addiction and Heart Rate Variability4: A study done in 2014 found that school aged children (10-15 years old) with internet addiction had worse Heart Rate Variability than their non-addicted counterparts. This means that their sympathetic nervous system (Fight or Flight Response) is heightened while their parasympathetic (Rest and Digest, Grow and Heal Response) is lower. Unless they do something to change their autonomic nervous system function, these kids are setting themselves up for chronic disease. Kids need to have their screen time regulated as the amount of time correlates with the amount of Nervous system dysregulation.
How to Train HRV
The good news is, Heart Rate Variability can be trained. You can balance your nervous system, decrease inflammation, get out of the “Fight or Flight” response, and get into healing mode! To do this, we must activate our parasympathetics. The easiest way to do this is to activate the Vagus Nerve through deep breathing. Taking 10-20 minutes a day to do this will greatly change the balance in your nervous system. You begin to take control of your body and learn to stop the stress response!
We have it in our Office!
With the Neuroinfiniti, we have biofeedback programs that can train you how to properly do these deep breathing exercises! Before starting care, every new patient in our office receives a Stress Response Evaluation (SRE). As part of the SRE, we measure Heart Rate Variability, as shown in the picture to the right. If HRV is outside of normal, we often recommend biofeedback training. Many patients who have done this remark how much more relaxed they are, and when things get hectic, they remember their breathing exercises and begin to relax themselves. Stopping the “Fight or Flight” response and inflammation is key to becoming truly healthy! The great thing about this is, once you learn how to do it, you can do it forever! No need to wear fancy exercise clothes, buy high tech gadgets, or purchase any memberships.
There are also HRV Apps that you can download on your phone to help you keep track of your body’s balance.
To find out more about what a first visit for a new patient looks like, check out the New Patient section of our website!