I took a class last week on a subject that has always interested me—heart rate variability. Though it’s not a new phenomenon, it’s definitely a trendy subject lately. Simply put, HRV is the variation in your heartbeats within a specific timeframe and is an indication of how hard your heart is working. This variation is greatly affected by stress: the instructor explained that HRV will increase during relaxing situations and decrease during stressful ones.
The problem is that so many of us have chronic stress and it’s bad for our health. Not only does this state of nonstop fight-or-flight deplete our energy and affect our ability to make good decisions, research has shown a relationship between low HRV and depression, anxiety and heart disease. But stress isn’t the only culprit—poor sleep, an unhealthy diet, dysfunctional relationships, isolation and lack of exercise can cause low HRV, too.
The GOOD news is I learned that we can control our HRV. I volunteered to be the class guinea pig and let my instructor hook me up to a heart rate monitor. My heart rate was up on the screen for everyone to see; it started jagged and fast since I was a little nervous to be up there. He then told me to breathe in slowly for 5 counts and out slowly for 5 counts. As soon as I did, my heart rate became slower and smoother. Then he told me to think of something upsetting—and my heart rate was irregular again. Finally, he asked me to think of something that made me happy and once again my heart rate returned to a steady pace. I bounced back quickly!
Technique of the week: Work on increasing your HRV! Make it a point to eat healthier, get more sleep and more exercise, experience more positive emotions and create a regular breathing practice. Breathe in for a slow count of 5 and out for a slow count of 5 throughout your day to build your heart’s resilience, lower your stress and live a longer, healthier life!