Decoding Human Performance: Heart Rate Variability and Its Role in Exercising
Modern technologies allow us to gather all kinds of useful data that can help us become better and more successful at what we do. The same practice extends to all areas of life, including health. Small technological advancements have allowed us to monitor our overall health by checking our blood pressure, counting how many steps we take during the day, the total number of calories we have lost and so on.Researchers are always looking for new ways to help us understand our bodies better, and one of their latest areas of focus is called heart rate variability, or HVR. Keep reading, and we'll tell you everything you need to know about it.
Understanding what Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is
When put in simple terms, HRV is a measure of the variations between two heartbeats. It's controlled by one of the most primitive parts of the human nervous system, better known as the autonomic nervous system or ANS. It's a reflex process that keeps going whether we like it or not, and we can't do anything to affect it consciously. The ANS is responsible for many involuntary processes inside of our bodies, including blood pressure, heart rate, digestion, and breathing. The ANS is made of two primary components, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. These two systems are also known as the fight-or-flight mechanism and relaxation response. As our brains are working nonstop, the area called the hypothalamus is responsible for sending out signals via the ANS through our bodies, to stimulate these processes or relax them according to what's going on. It reacts every time you don't have a good night's sleep, or get in an argument with the people around you. However, it also responds to positive news and the tasty, healthy meals you may eat. Recent research has proven that your HRV can become dangerous if you're under stress for a long time, or if you don't sleep enough, don't eat right, spend too much time alone, don't exercise, and do anything else that can ruin your natural body's balance. That can lead to your fight-or-flight response to enter overdrive, which can drastically affect your way of life.
Psychological aspects and HRV
Whenever the human body senses stress, it sends out signals to the brain, which then figures out a way to deal with the situation. Stress sources trigger certain reactions as our bodies struggle to stay balanced to keep working as they should.When we're faced with stress, our CNS sends impulses from the brain, through the spinal cord, all the way to the muscles, including the heart. In other words, the central nervous system sends signals to the autonomic nervous system, which then tries to balance things out through parasympathetic influence. It is responsible for organ control and processes like breathing and heart blood pressure. The bottom line is that HRV is an entirely physiological mechanism that goes on regularly without us even knowing. It's a normal body function that keeps all of our organs and nerves in an optimal state. As the body tries to maintain balance in different situations, our HRV is influenced by the process, and measuring it can give us a better idea of how much stress we are dealing with. HRV is a potent tool that offers insight into physiological processes in our bodies, and we can use it to understand what's going on and make changes on the go.
The nervous system and HRV
As previously mentioned, HRV is directly regulated by the autonomic nervous system or ANS. It uses both the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems to keep all of the organs in our bodies balanced. The sympathetic branch of the ANS is responsible for the fight-or-flight mechanism that reacts to stress and pushes our body into overdrive so we can cope with the stressful situations we are in.On the other hand, the parasympathetic branch is responsible for relaxing the body, allowing it to recover from the stress it was in. Every stressful situation promotes the production of hormones, which increases the heart rate and decreases HRV. That's critical in cases where we stress our bodies, such as working out and facing stressful situations, both physically and mentally.When the stress is over, the parasympathetic branch slows everything down by increasing HRV and decreasing heart rate and organ activity. The entire process is entirely natural, and our bodies go through it every time our balance is affected by stimuli. In other words, it's the only process that allows our heart to respond to the situation at hand.
The practical applications of HRV
Measuring HRV can help us understand what our bodies are doing and why. Measuring HRV provides useful data that allows us to impact our reactions and improve our overall performance through better decision-making and physical training, leading to a more balanced body and an improved sense of wellbeing. The practice is widely used among professional athletes that put their bodies under extreme stress, and measuring their HRV helps their bodies balance out faster after the activities that cause stress, are over. In other words, measuring HRV helps optimise training by being able to pinpoint the triggers that put the body into overdrive. As a result, the body can cope with stress better, allowing us to make better performance decisions and live healthier overall.
By understanding your HRV, you will know what changes you have to make to keep your organ activities balanced. It provides valuable insight into how you should think and live, as well as what kind of behaviour has the most significant impact on your body and mind. Knowing your HRV won't help you avoid stress, but it will give you a better idea of how to respond to it without compromising your health. While measuring HRV is exact and accurate, there is still plenty of room for improvement when understanding how to handle it better. The bottom line is that HRV is a preventive tool that allows us to visualise what our brains are doing in stressful and relaxing situations.