What is Heart Rate Variability?

HRV is the range of the heart rate with each breath. As we inhale, the heart rate increases. As we exhale, the heart rate decreases. While the average heart rate over a minute might be 70 beats per minute, the second by second heart rate may vary between 60 and 80 bpm with respiration, giving a HRV of 20 bpm (80-60=20).

Why is Heart Rate Variability important?

Scientists and physicians consider HRV to be an important indicator of health and fitness. As a marker of physiological resilience and behavioural flexibility, it reflects our ability to adapt effectively to stress and environmental demands using our autonomic nervous system.

What is the Autonomic Nervous System?

The ANS is that part of the nervous system that controls the automatic processes in our body that don’t require conscious control, such as body temperature, respiratory rate, blood pressure, heart rate, hormone release, turning tissues on and off. 

The ANS has two branches - the Sympathetic Nervous System, and the Parasympathetic Nervous System. The SNS activates the body for flight, fight and protection. This may present as emotional states of frustration, anxiety, anger.The PNS calms the body for rest, digest and repair. This presents as relaxation. The SNS and PNS need to work together for optimal efficiency of the body. Should their co-ordination become impaired, it is akin to the accelerator and the brake being on at the same time i.e. accelerated wear and tear.

Many people have excess sympathetic activation due prolonged perceived threats (work, financial, relationship, environmental stresses), that over time becomes their new normal state. This manifests as physical disease due to poor digestion and absorption, down regulated detoxification processes, the over-excretion of nutrients, non-restorative sleep, hormone imbalances etc.


How does Heart Rate Variability reflect the health of the Autonomic Nervous System?

The heart has it own brain of 40,000 neurons, and hence has the ability to keep the heart muscle contracting and pumping, even when removed from the body.

The ANS, via the SNS and the PNS can influence the heart rate. The SNS increases the heart rate and amount of blood ejected per beat. The PNS decreases the heart rate and the amount of blood ejected per beat. When the SNS and the PNS are working together efficiently, the heart rate changes as a smooth sine wave with each breath i.e. as we inhale the interval between each heart beat smoothly decreases (increased heart rate) and as we exhale the interval between each heart beat increases (decreased heart rate). If the SNS and the PNS, and hence the ANS are unbalanced, the interval between each beat becomes erratic and irregular, and the heart rate variability curve becomes jagged.

What is Coherence?

When the SNS and the PNS are working efficiently together, the HRV curve becomes smooth and sinusoidal. The power spectrum also becomes centred around the 0.1 Hz frequency. This state is termed psychophysiological coherence. Lower frequencies indicate SNS overload, whilst higher frequencies indicate PNS overload.

How is HRV and the Power Spectrum useful in Age Reversal Medicine?

HRV is a marker of biological ageing. Our heart rate variability is greatest when we are young, and as we age the range of variation in our resting heart rate with respiration becomes smaller. Although the age-related decline in HRV is a natural process, having abnormally low HRV for one’s age group is associated with increased risk of future health problems and premature mortality. Low HRV is also observed in individuals with a wide range of diseases and disorders. For example, stress reduces heart rate variability, which is an objective, accurate and sensitive measure of coronary disease and a powerful predictor of sudden death.  

Can HRV be improved?

Regular practice of coherence building techniques can help restore low HRV to healthy values, by reducing stress-induced wear and tear on the nervous system and facilitating the body’s natural regenerative processes.

Research has shown that generating sustained positive emotions facilitates a body-wide shift to a specific, scientifically measurable state. This state is termed psychophysiological coherence, because it is characterised by increased order and harmony in both our psychological (mental and emotional) and physiological (bodily) processes. Psychophysiological coherence is the state of optimal function. Research shows that when we activate this state, our physiological systems function more efficiently, we experience greater emotional stability, and we also have increased mental clarity and improved cognitive function. Simply stated, our body and brain work better, we feel better, and we perform better.

Why should I optimise my Psychophysiological Coherence?

Generating coherence shifts the body into a state of optimal function and is thus a natural performance enhancer. Several research studies have demonstrated significant improvements in specific aspects of cognition and task performance after subjects maintained a state of psychophysiological coherence. A study conducted by researchers in the UK measured a significant improvement in long-term memory in a group who learned and practiced coherence building tools. This improvement was greater than that typically produced by a pharmaceutical memory enhancer. Another study demonstrated significantly improved reaction time on a task requiring focused attention, coordination, and a quick and accurate response among subjects who generated coherence before performing the task as compared to those who entered a nonspecific state of relaxation. 

Learning to generate coherence has many other benefits beyond stress reduction.  Coherence is a state that stimulates and supports the body’s own natural regenerative processes. Therefore, both healthy individuals and those with health challenges can benefit by regularly activating and sustaining coherence.  Such emotional improvements have been measured in widely diverse populations—ranging from corporate executives, to high school students, to elderly congestive heart failure patients.

The power of coherence training lies in the fact that this approach not only produces immediate, in-the-moment benefits, but also, over time, facilitates sustained changes in health, well-being, and performance that profoundly improve the quality of life.

What is Social Coherence?

The electricity following through the heart generates a magnetic field that is by far the strongest in the body. It is 100 times stronger than the brain’s magnetic field. The heart’s electromagnetic field can be measured three metres away from your body. This EMF carries information about the heart’s state of coherence, and can be detected by others within this range. Just as we can identify someone’s presence by feeling their magnetic field, we can detect their coherence state by the information that is carried by that magnetic field wave. Their electromagnetic field affects our field, and vice versa. If they are incoherent, it will tend to push us towards incoherence. Conversely, if we can maintain our coherence, we can encourage them into coherence via this interaction of our magnetic fields.


How does the heart’s coherence affect the brain?

While the brain sends information to the heart, the heart sends ten times more information up to the brain, influencing its function. There are four ways that the heart communicates with the brain. Pathways to the primitive emotion centres in the base of the brain, and on to the outer cortex where the higher level functions occur, have been identified. When the heart is coherent, it makes it easier for us to regulate our emotions, and causes synchronisation of the cortical brain waves leading to faster reaction times, better decision-making and more accurate intuition.


How can HRV and Coherence be measured?

An ear clip senses your pulse and relays this information to the software that calculates and displays your HRV and coherence power spectrum. The test takes 15 minutes to complete.


How can HRV and Coherence be improved?

Daily training at home and work, ideally five minutes three times per day, and fifteen minutes once a week, using Heartmath's Quick Coherence technique and a portable neurobiofeedback device, provides a cheap, easy, effective training opportunity.


Why do a 3 day HRV assessment?

A 3 day HRV assessment measures HRV in real-life conditions, which are not stationary and stable, but rather dynamic and complex. This provides a comprehensive view over physiological reactions to daily life activities. It also enables us to provide feedback on the effectiveness of training, on recovery status, and on fitness level, as well as lifestyle-related aspects such as stress, recovery, and physical activity and the autonomic nervous systems response to and control of these factors.

For more information, go to www.heartmath.com and www.firstbeat.com