There is a lot of buzz around health and wellbeing these days. Not a day goes by without reading articles about another health and wellbeing event which incorporates everything from nutrition, exercise, stress management to outfits and promises of everlasting vitality and youth. It’s good to be informed but to actually improve your wellbeing we need more specific information… about you and your lifestyle.

Technology allows us these days to keep track of our weight, heart rate, steps, blood pressure, blood glucose in the comfort of our homes. All these markers help us feel more empowered and take control of our health and wellbeing. In this blog, I would like to mention an important marker you should be aware of: Heart Rate Variability (HRV). Heart Rate Variability is different than Heart Rate. Heart Rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute. HRV is the variation in the time interval between consecutive heartbeats and just like heart rate, it’s impacted by internal and external factors, physical and psychological. Heart rate variability increases during relaxing and recovering activities and decreases during stress. Accordingly, HRV is typically higher when the heart is beating slowly and decreases as the heart beats more quickly. In other words, heart rate and HRV have a generally inverse relationship.

HRV changes from day to day based on activity levels and amount of work-related stress. In addition to these external stress factors, internal stress factors cause variation daily HRV levels. Internal stress factors include poor nutrition, alcohol use, illness, etc.

Let’s glance over the science behind HRV…

There is a primitive part of your nervous system called Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) which connects your brain to your heart and your visceral organs. It regulates breathing, heart rate and digestion and acts autonomously without you being consciously aware of its activity. The autonomic nervous system is split into two subdivisions: the sympathetic nervous system (or fight-or-flight) which is the driving force of the body preparing you to act or react to danger and the parasympathetic nervous system (or rest-and-digest) which is the calming, restorative side. Every day of your life, depending on what you do, there is an interplay between these two systems without you knowing it. When we hear about stress-related problems in today’s world, the first thing you need to think of is the interplay no longer functions properly and the body spends too much time in fight-or-flight and not enough in rest-and-digest mode.  It means your life does not include enough recovery and restorative activities. When we talk about recovery, it means good quality sleep between 7 and 9 hours and any other activities which help your mind and body slow down without the pressure of to-do lists, work deadlines or personal responsibilities.  Heart Rate Variability shows the balance between these two sides.  An increased HRV is going to be seen in people with higher fitness, compared to people with lower fitness levels. High HRV is commonly viewed as an indicator of a healthy heart.

Following a 3 day measurement of your heartbeat, Firstbeat provides personalised insights into stress, exercise and sleep, helping you understand the modifiable lifestyle factors you can influence to improve your wellbeing, cardiovascular fitness and the balance of your autonomic nervous system with science-backed confidence.

Maria Golesteanu
Key Account Manager – Wellness
Firstbeat Technologies UK