It’s no secret that your heart is a key indicator of your overall health. If it’s healthy and strong, you know you’re doing something right. If you have a heart rate that is too fast or too slow, you know it’s time to make a change.
But the importance of your heartbeats goes beyond the speed and number of beats per minute. Your heart rate variability can also tell you how healthy you really are—and whether you may have underlying conditions that haven’t been discovered yet.
So what exactly is heart rate variability, and what does it reveal about your health? In this article, we’ll explore the importance of keeping track of your heart rate variability to live a long, fulfilling life.
What Is Heart Rate Variability?
Heart rate variability (HRV) is the difference in time between the beats of your heart. Our hearts aren’t like a metronome or a clock. Instead, they beat like a bird’s song, rhythmic with some beats coming out faster than others. If you have a heart rate of 60 beats per minute, your heart isn’t beating once every second. There could be 1.1 seconds between two heartbeats and .7 seconds between another two heartbeats.
If you have ever felt your pulse for long periods of time, you may have noticed this phenomenon. But what you likely didn’t realize is that the space inbetween your heartbeats (also known as the RR interval) is incredibly important.
Why does it matter? Well, it matters because of the contributing factors that cause variants in your HRV. HRV is a fluctuation caused by two competing parts of your nervous system: the parasympathetic branch and the sympathetic branch.
The parasympathetic branch helps your body rest. It helps your body conserve energy, constricts the pupils, improves your digestion, and slows your heart rate and increases the speed between heartbeats.
The sympathetic branch, on the other hand, is associated with adrenaline and “fight or flight” reactions. It’s active when you go for a run, watch a scary movie, or experience stress. Unlike the parasympathetic branch, it causes an increase in your heart rate and decreases the space between heartbeats.
Your HRT can then tell you whether these two systems are in balance.
Not only is your HRT a good indicator of overall health, but it also can help you catch potential problems before they become something more dangerous.
How Can You Calculate Your HRT?
A skilled doctor or technician can determine your HRT using an ECG machine. Based on the results of your ECG evaluation, your doctor will tell you your HRT and whether the number is high or low. Your doctor may also have you wear a heart rate variability monitor to monitor your levels over a longer period of time.
These are the average HRT ranges for men and women based on age:
- 20: Average HRT – 60-110
- 25: Average HRT – 55-90
- 30: Average HRT – 45-85
- 35: Average HRT – 40-75
- 40: Average HRT – 37-65
- 45: Average HRT – 34-55
- 50: Average HRT – 30-50
- 55: Average HRT – 30-50
- 60: Average HRT – 25-50
- 65: Average HRT – 25-50
What’s the difference between a high or low HRT? A high HRT means that your body is responding to both parasympathetic and sympathetic inputs. This is a good thing, as it tells you that your nervous system is in balance and performing at its best. The higher the HRT, the more your body is able to switch between these two systems safely.
A low HRT can be much more concerning. It indicates that one branch (typically the sympathetic) is dominating the other. In some situations, like if you’re exercising heavily, this is completely normal. However, if you’re not being active but still have a low HRT, your body may be working hard for another reason.
In this situation, high levels of adrenaline are likely surging through your system. Your body is struggling to relax and rebalance itself. This can lead to a number of frustrating neurological symptoms such as:
- Exhaustion and chronic fatigue
- Anxiety, depression, and mood swings
- Insomnia and difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- And more
How Can You Improve Your HRT?
There are a number of factors that affect the length of your RR interval. Age, gender, genetics, and certain chronic health conditions all play a role. Additionally, your diet, alcohol consumption, sleep habits, and stress levels can also impact your heart health.
While you might not be able to control all of the factors listed above, there are steps you can take to help your body calm down and increase your HRT.
- Don’t overdo your workout. You want to push yourself to lose weight and boost muscle growth. However, too much at once can put stress on your body. Give yourself time to recover between workouts and consider low-intensity interval training.
- Swap alcohol with water. We often think that indulging in a glass of wine is a good way to de-stress. However, just one night of drinking can decrease your HRT for as much as 5 days. On the other hand, the more hydrated you are, the easier it is for your body to deliver oxygen to the places where it’s needed. So make sure you drink enough water.
- Get plenty of sleep. It’s tempting to stay up late, especially on Friday and Saturday night. However, sleep is an essential tool for relieving stress and calming the body. Aim for 8 hours of sleep per night, and try to get up and go to bed at the same time every day—even during the weekends.
- Eat a healthy diet. Diet has long been associated with heart health, and this is also the case with your HRT. Follow a heart-healthy diet low in saturated fats and high-glycemic carbs.
- Practice stress management. While you can’t always make your life less stressful, you can control the way you deal with that stress. Meditation, yoga, and deep breathing are all excellent ways to keep stress levels to a minimum.
Keep Your Heart Health & Body Strong With Matrix Age Management
At Matrix Age Management, our goal is to help you live your best life every day—for as long as possible. That’s why HRV is one of the key metrics we examine in our Comprehensive Health Program. By determining whether your HRT is high or low, we can evaluate your nervous system and keep your body in balance.
Our advanced testing also includes:
- PULS (Protein Unstable Lesion Signature): By examining 9 protein biomarkers, we can check for damage to the blood vessels and whether you are at risk for blood flow blockage in the heart.
- Troponin T Gen 5: This test helps us catch myocardial coronary artery disease (damage to the heart's major blood vessels) quickly, as well as determine your 10-year risk of heart attack or stroke.
- Coronary Calcium Scan: Using this specialized CAT scan, we can visualize and measure the amount of calcium plaque present in the coronary arteries. If left untreated, this plaque can restrict the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the muscles of the heart.
- Carotid Artery Intima Scan: This high-resolution ultrasound visualization of the carotid artery wall thickness shows us your vascular age and your risk for cardiovascular disease.
- Genetic Testing: We also use genetic testing to determine your risk of cancer and diabetes, as well as medication metabolism, prenatal screening, genetic carrier screening, and ancestry DNA.
You may not be able to control everything in your world, but with the help of our team, you’ll have the tools and support you need to have better control over your health. And that can provide you with peace of mind, which is something we could all use more of.