Heart rate variability (HRV) is a measurement of the interaction between the sympathetic (“fight or flight”) nervous system and the parasympathetic (“relaxation”) nervous system in the overall autonomic nervous system.
Basically your nervous system has two main divisions – the part that controls functions that are under conscious voluntary control such as skeletal muscles and sensory neurons of the skin. Then there’s the part that is automatic or involuntary, which is called the autonomic nervous system. Breathing, your beating heart, digestion of food and many other bodily functions are something you don’t have to think about, they just sort of happen on their own. That’s the autonomic nervous system (or ANS for short).
The ANS also breaks down into two major categories. One makes various body functions speed up (called sympathetic nervous system) and the other (called parasympathetic nervous system) slows things down and relaxes you. When you are resting and at ease, the parasympathetic side slows down your heart rate, breathing, digestion and other functions to conserve energy. But, if while you were resting, you heard gun shots or someone screaming, your sympathetic nervous system would suddenly kick in. Your heart would start beating and pumping blood must faster, you would become much more alert, the adrenal glands would kick in with hormones that give you an energy boost.
Heart Rate Variability is a measurement of the interaction between the sympathetic (“fight or flight”) nervous system and the parasympathetic (“relaxation”) nervous system in the overall autonomic nervous system. In other words, how well your heart rate can vary, or shift gears so-to-speak, between the sympathetic and parasympathetic says a lot about how healthy you are. Even more importantly, it can serve to predict more serious conditions and, if appropriate remedies are employed, can prevent more serious problems later.
Some examples of good Heart Rate Variability would be:
1) You are watching a funny movie on TV and you hear a loud bang. Prior to the bang you should have been quite relaxed. The bang should have immediately activated your sympathetic nervous system; the adrenals kick in, you are on your feet to investigate, heart rate is quite fast, etc. You then find out it was your cat in the kitchen knocked an empty pot off the counter. You go back to your movie and quickly relax.
2) You wake up at 2am to discover that your teenage son, who was supposed to be home by midnight, is not home yet. You call him on his cell phone and he doesn’t answer. Your sympathetic nervous system kicks in and you are now fully awake and pacing. You start calling hospitals. Your son walks in apologizing, saying he ran out of gas and his cell phone died. You give him his duly earned earful. You thank God that he’s safe and go back to bed. You are able to relax quickly and go back to sleep.
Now, if you had poor HRV you would still be worked up for quite some time, maybe even hours, after these two circumstances. Panic attacks and anxiety disorders are also disorders of heart rate variability in that sympathetic nervous system goes on overdrive.
Another example of poor HRV is the inability for the sympathetic nervous system to kick in. A loud bang in the kitchen might get a glance up and then back to the TV — in other words, the sympathetic nervous system doesn’t kick in at all when it should.
reflects the heart’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances by detecting and quickly responding to unpredictable stimuli or the lack of stimuli. HRV measures overall health and well-being and measures how efficiently the body adapts and adjusts to circumstances to be able to perform at maximum efficiency.
A wide range of other outcomes and conditions may also be associated with poor heart rate variability, including heart attack, stroke, congestive heart failure, diabetic neuropathy, depression and more.
The Max Pulse is an easy, non-invasive way to to test Heart Rate Variability. It only takes a few minutes.
I highly recommend getting anyone and everyone tested. Using the test results, one can make lifestyle changes or introduce simple supplements into their daily routine that can improve results. Over time patients may avoid debilitating or even life threatening situations by catching issues early and acting to address these when something can still be done about it.