I know what my heart rate variability is- now how do I improve it?
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Increasing your Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is one of the best ways to enhance the health of both your heart and nervous system.
You may already measure your HRV consistently, or you are planning to. What is the next step? Here are five ways to improve your HRV:**
- Exercise – Not Too Much, Not Too Little
Exercise can be an important key to improving your HRV. Exercising too little can lead to detrimental effects on both physical and mental health. However, exercising too much without proper recovery can also lead to negative health outcomes.
Choosing exercise forms that are engaging for you can be the first step in improving your HRV. Exercise can come in form of anything from dancing, to stretching, or to rock climbing. By incorporating movement into your routine in a way that feels achievable and enjoyable, you can increase your HRV and have a great time doing it.
An important note: if exercise consistently makes you feel worse, not better, consider utilizing the practice of pacing. Instead of a “no pain, no gain” approach, pacing allows you to stay tuned into how you feel and use that as a compass for staying within your energy limits to gradually meet new goals.
A good night’s rest is great for your health in many ways, including improving your HRV. Set yourself up for sleep success with these strategies:
- Give yourself time to wind down before falling asleep - turn off any unnecessary notifications, save scrolling for tomorrow, and decompress from the day for at least half an hour before heading to bed.
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed and getting up in the morning at (approximately) the same time. Establishing this rhythm supports a healthy sleep cycle and eliminates the "decision fatigue" of having to choose a new routine every day.
- Transition your body to “rest-and-recovery” mode with breathwork, meditation, or a Flowly session to fall asleep faster and sleep deeper through the night.
- Eat Well- and Regularly
Nourishing your body with nutrient-dense foods can be a delicious and HRV-improving experience. If trying to figure out what “eating healthy” actually means in a world of conflicting food advice has left you confused, consider the advice of Michael Pollan, author of “In Defense of Food”:
”Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Prioritizing what is on your plate does not have to be complicated- mix it up with different color of fruits and vegetables, incorporate well-sourced proteins, enjoy local cuisines and keep regular mealtimes.
- Breathe (on purpose!)
Breathwork is the practice of conscious, intentional breathing that is incredibly accessible and powerful for supporting all of your body’s functions, including your heart rate variability. While there are almost countless forms of breathwork you can try, resonant frequency breathing is shown to be particularly efficient in raising your HRV score.
You can calibrate your own individual resonant frequency breathing rate by using biofeedback, or use an average frequency of 6 breaths per minute.
- Feel Your Emotions
Emotions are often overlooked in health and fitness, when in reality your emotional state plays an enormous role in all aspects of your well-being. Compression and amusement, in particular, have been positively linked to high heart rate variability, whereas anger and fear are shown to lower your HRV. However, that doesn’t mean you always have to feel happy and compassionate while never getting angry or scared. Your body and mind are equipped to navigate different emotional states, just like you are able to experience the various stressors and positive experiences in your life.
Setting your conscious focus on joy, while allowing yourself to truly feel whatever comes up for you, is one of the best ways to regulate your nervous system and increase your HRV.
Improving your Heart Rate Variability, or HRV score, means more resilience to stress, better cardiovascular health, and reduced pain and anxiety. You can increase your HRV by exercising in a way that feels good to you, enjoying restful sleep, eating nourishing foods, breathing slowly, and allowing yourself to fully experience your emotions. Choosing one or all of these five strategies to incorporate into your life will have a profound impact on both your heart rate variability and overall wellness.