What Is Heart Rate Variability?

Heart rate variability (HRV) is the beat-to-beat changes in your heart beat, a reliable indicator of overall health; including current and future risks. High heart rate variability is associated with good health; low heart rate variability means higher risk for health problems.

Partners in Health

Your autonomic nervous system operates without you consciously influencing it, controlling heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, digestion, organ function, and many other aspects of your physiology.

The autonomic nervous system has two parts; the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. They work in tandem to keep you healthy.

The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) triggers when there is a threat you must respond to. Termed the “flight or fight” response, it entails action. When the threat has passed, the SNS dampens down, while  the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) triggers. The PNS counters the SNS, settling everything down, returning you to a balanced, relaxed state

Ideally, these two aspects of your autonomic nervous systems work together, each taking over according to conditions, and your body's respond to those conditions.

Heart rate variability measures of how well these two partners are working together.  Computer analysis yields results revealing how balanced your nervous system is,  which indicates how stress is affecting your body, especially your heart. It measures the beat-to-bet change of the heartbeat's rhythm. 

In today’s modern world we have lots of stress, our response to an over-stimulated and uncertain environment: think traffic jams, busy schedules, job and financial pressures, family responsibilities, floods of emails, etc. Our sympathetic nervous system responds to these conditions as if they were physical threats—it gets excited, and our bodies are flooded with flight-or-fight hormones and chemicals.

When stress is constant our sympathetic nervous system cannot slow down. Stress dominates, overriding the parasympathetic system. We rarely revert to a normal, balanced, relaxed state.. Over time, this stress response has detrimental physical effects. (Read the “Stress: The Silent Killer” page to learn more about the health consequences of chronic low-level stress.)

Heart rate variability measures  how in balanced or imbalanced your autonomic nervous system is. When your sympathetic nervous system is continually in a high state of arousal, heart rate variability decreases, and your risk of heart disease and various other health conditions increases.

Heart rate variability is a measure of how in balanced or imbalanced your autonomic nervous system is. When your sympathetic nervous system is continually in a high state of arousal, heart rate variability decreases and your risk of heart disease and various other health conditions increases.

The Importance of Coherence

Scientists previously thought the autonomic nervous system was incapable of being controlled consciously. It is now known we can consciously shift our system back toward harmony and a balanced state called “coherence.”

Coherence is everything is working together in a coordinated manner. Communication exists among all its various systems in your body. Coherence means your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are in balance and your cells and organs are working together and “communicating” well. Coherence is a mark of reduced stress and vibrant health and well-being.

It’s simple to increase your physiological coherence (See the “Stress: The Silent Killer” page for some simple techniques to help achieve coherence.) Look at the chart on the left. It measures respiration, heart rate variability, and blood pressure. You will notice that the tracings go from jagged and chaotic on the left to rhythmic and more ordered on the right. The tracings on the right are what coherence looks like in your body, and they represent an increased state of health.  When you are frustrated, angry, depressed, or otherwise stressed out, all the systems of your body respond accordingly, showing the stress response, a state of incoherence. Shift your attitude toward appreciation, gratitude, love, and you will see your parasympathetic nervous system respond, relaxing all the systems of your body, especially your heart, and sending your entire physiology into a greater state of coherence. 

Notice in the charts the state of your heart as shown by ECG measurement shifts dramatically when you shift your attitude and generate positive emotions (in this case, from frustration to appreciation). That shift toward coherence happens in only minutes. (Charts courtesy of HeartMath.org) Your body truly reflects your state of mind. You do have some control over your physiology; your state of health can be influenced regardless of your present challenges.

How can you find out how you deal with stress and how it is affecting your body?

A simple, quick and non-invasive way of determining your stress level and, how your body is dealing with that stress is through a heart rate variability scan.  The HeartQuest system generates your heart rate variability measure, and provides a comprehensive view of the state of your current health and projection for long-term health.  SEE BENEFITS OF HEARTQUEST.


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