Heart rate variability is a biometric measurement that can be used as a way to assess the current state of your body’s autonomic nervous system. Tracking your hrv can help you to improve your health and wellbeing. Monitoring your hrv daily will give you a baseline score. A low hrv baseline can mean you have inflammation and higher stress levels. The good news is you can improve heart rate variability scores with a few lifestyle changes.
If you want to know more about heart rate variability and how to measure it, you should start with our guide to hrv.
Once you have decided to track your HRV you may find your score is a little on the low side, or a bit inconsistent. There are a few things you can do to try to increase it.
It affects all aspects of our lives and health, so it is not surprising that it can affect our heart rate variability as well. So, what can help you improve your sleep quality?
- Make sure you are getting enough sleep. Try getting 7 to 9 hours sleep a night.
- Be more consistent with your bedtime. Going to sleep at the same time each night will help with the quality of your sleep.
- Turn off all screens at least an hour before bedtime. Bright screens before bed can have a detrimental effect on your sleep.
- Avoid caffeine after 2pm, or earlier if you are more sensitive to it.
- Keep your bedroom cool and dark. The more artificial light you are exposed to at night, the greater the impact on your sleep quality.
- Avoid alcohol at least 3 hours before sleep. It can act as a sedative to start with and help you get to sleep faster. But during the night it becomes a stimulant and will prevent you from getting good quality sleep.
2. Regular exercise
You know you should be doing it. The more sedentary you are, the lower your hrv is likely to be. Try to get a at least 20-25 minutes of exercise a day (150 minutes a week) for aerobic fitness. Then add in 2 light weights sessions for strength.
Relaxation and downtime are important for our bodies. Don’t overtrain or over work yourself as this can lead to more stress and a lower heart rate variability. Allow days off for relaxation. Dial back the intensity of your exercise with slow walks on the beach, or try some yoga or Tai Chi. Relax by reading a book, taking a nap, or sitting and talking with family or friends.
Breathing can have a direct impact on your hrv. The more you can even out your breath and take fewer breaths per minute, the more your hrv can improve. Aim for around 6 breaths a minute to help increase your hrv. Your breath should feel natural and not forced, not deep or shallow. Try to breathe with your diaphragm, not in the chest. Practice paced breathing a few times a week and try to be mindful of your breathing throughout the day.
Meditation can help because it relaxes the body and slows down your breathing at the same time. Start a daily meditation practice to help improve your hrv. As an added bonus, there are many other benefits to meditating as well.
6. Cold therapy
Cold Therapy can help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This will help your body relax and be less stressed, and less stress can lead to a higher hrv. Spend a few minutes in the shower with the cold water running, or take a quick dip in the pool or ocean for a few minutes a day.
7. Healthy foods
Certain foods can have an inflammatory effect on your body, creating a sympathetic nervous system response. The more time your body spends in a sympathetic response, the lower your hrv will be. To counter this, you should try to avoid known inflammatory foods whenever possible. The most common are gluten, dairy, sweets, processed meats, and refined oils. You can go another step further and add some anti-inflammatory foods into your diet. Common ones are ginger, turmeric, garlic, onions, green veggies, berries, green tea, and olive oil. The Mediterranean Diet has been shown to help protect the heart, and is likely to help improve your heart rate variability.
8. Intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting can aid the body’s nervous system response and
. You can try fasting for 16 or 24 hours, once or twice a week. This can be as simple as not eating until lunchtime or dinner. Or you can try a longer fast every few months. For more on this see Intermittent Fasting 101, or The Beginner’s Guide to Intermittent Fasting by James Clear.
Alcohol has been found to suppress hrv and impair your stress tolerance. If you can keep your alcohol consumption to moderate levels it may help your hrv score improve over the long term. While small amounts of red wine have been shown to improve hrv, more than that can decrease it.
Acupuncture may help to synchronize the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. A balanced nervous system can help improve your heart rate variability.
You don’t have to take on of all these at once. Just pick one or two and give them a go. Track your hrv daily and look for signs of improvement to your baseline score. You will always have variations to your baseline on a day to day basis, but you should look for a gradual upward trend over time. If something works keep it up. If not, try something else. Be patient and stick with what works for you.
- Improvements in heart rate variability with exercise therapy
- Increased heart rate variability during nondirective meditation
- Autonomic nervous function during whole-body cold exposure before and after cold acclimation
- ‘Cross-adaptation’: habituation to short repeated cold-water immersions affects the response to acute hypoxia in humans
- Mediterranean Dietary Pattern Is Associated with Improved Cardiac Autonomic Function among Middle-Aged Men: a Twin Study
- Moderate alcohol intake is related to increased heart rate variability in young adults: implications for health and well-being
- Dose-related effects of red wine and alcohol on heart rate variability
- Characteristics of heart rate variability in alcohol-dependent subjects and nondependent chronic alcohol users
- Beneficial effects of intermittent fasting and caloric restriction on the cardiovascular and cerebrovascular systems
- Caloric restriction and intermittent fasting alter spectral measures of heart rate and blood pressure variability in rats
- Caloric restriction and intermittent fasting: Two potential diets for successful brain aging
- Effect of acupuncture on heart rate variability in primary dysmenorrheic women
- Effect of Acupuncture on Heart Rate Variability: A Systematic Review