A Scientific Way to Get "In Touch" With Your Heart – Part 2

Written by Anil Bajnath, MD
Posted September 30, 2021

Dear Longevity Insider,

Heart rate variability (HRV) is important in medicine today. HRV analysis is a recognized tool for the estimation of cardiac autonomic modulations.  Cardiac autonomic modulations refer to the changes of cardiac parasympathetic and sympathetic activity in response to variations in respiratory rates. Heart rate variability is the variability within your heart rate over time, which is also measured by taking an Electrocardiography (ECG) recording.  It's widely used nowadays for tracking health and is even a feature on common smart watches. HRV has been used to predict mortality after a heart attack, among other things. 

HRV is used as a marker for physical and mental stress. How so? The parasympathetic nervous system lowers heart rate and controls the "rest and digest" function. The sympathetic nervous system raises heart rate, dilates blood vessels to generate a fight or flight response, which is particularly useful when dealing with stressful events. As HRV increases, your cardiac output decreases as you enter a state of parasympathetic dominance. For example, those with depression or post traumatic stress disorderhave been found to have a lower HRV. Low HRV may indicate that the individual has a harder time recovering from daily stressors, which could ultimately lead to health issues if left untreated.

HRV may be able to give some insight on how stress has been affecting your mental and physical health. If an individual is having a hard time maintaining good cognitive function, HRV can be used as a gauge to determine whether that person needs more rest or if they need to take time off from work. In the case of those who have anxiety or depression , low HRV may be able to predict the likelihood of an individual experiencing issues with their mental health.

Generally, a low HRV is linked with an increased risk of death and cardiovascular disease. By taking HRV to heart, individuals are able to get a better picture of their health. There are also times when high HRV may indicate that the person's body is not operating at its best. An example of this would be an individual who does workouts that are too intense for them to handle. 

INCREASING YOUR HRV

When a person is in a stressful situation, their sympathetic nervous system takes over and an increased amount of cortisol will be released. This leads to a lower HRV, which signals the body that there is stress present.

In response, one can attempt to reverse this effect by breathing slowly and deeply while engaging in relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga. People who have a high HRV have been shown to have higher levels of a neurotransmitter called GABA, which is naturally released when a person is present in a relaxed environment.

Increasing your HRV will also increase the amount of energy that your body uses as it requires less energy from cortisol and adrenaline for this process. This leads to better blood pressure, weight management, performance under stress, and other optimal outcomes.

CONCLUSION

Just like you may use smart technology to count your steps, tracking HRV may be a useful tool to motivate behavioral and lifestyle change. For example, Sleep HRV measurements can provide insight on how you rate compared to other users in similar age groups. While HRV biometric tracking is still a new concept, I am hopeful it will help patients be more participatory in their health journey. 

To your longevity,

Anil Bajnath MD
CEO/Founder, Institute for Human Optimization
Chief Medical Officer, Longevity Insider HQ

P.S. Here is a very important part of my health journey.