We all have it. We’re rushing to get the kids ready for school, trying to meet an important deadline at work, dealing with traffic, etc., etc. Yes, it’s stress. Stress can have so many negative effects on our bodies, many issues that we may not realize for years. What if there was a way to see how your body reacts to and handles stress? What if by monitoring this you’re awareness would be increased, you may learn to deal with stressful situations better, in turn increasing your overall wellness? The answer may already exist!
There are numerous ways we can all track our steps, heart rate, calories burned, hours of sleep, but wouldn’t it be nice to be able to track how our body recovers and ultimately handles stress? That’s exactly what Heart Rate Variability (HRV) does. It is a measurement of the variation in time between each heartbeat. HRV has gained the attention recently of athletes, coaches, and the general public, but has been being tracked by researchers for decades because it’s a useful indicator of several health-related issues. It’s really pretty amazing how this piece of data can let us know how we’re handling stress, whether it’s from exercise, lack of sleep or even the start of a cold.
If you want to experience what these variations in your heartbeat feel like, place a finger gently on your neck or wrist and find your pulse. You’ll notice that the longest intervals occur when you exhale, the shortest ones when you inhale. In general, if the intervals between your heartbeats are rather constant, your HRV will be low. If their length varies, your HRV will be high. It tends to be higher when you’re fit and healthy, but how high depends on the individual. Women also typically have a higher HRV than men. You can’t compare HRV with other people however, because so many factors, both internal and external, affect it, like age, hormones, lifestyle and overall body functions.
There aren’t any generic guidelines for what would be considered optimal HRV values due to the fact that there are several ways to track and calculate it. I use a WHOOP strap to track my strain and recovery. The WHOOP uses HRV, RHR (resting heart rate) and sleep statistics to determine a recovery percentage. I also love using MYZONE band. (these are available for purchase at CrossFit Blaze) MYZONE is a wearable heart rate based system that uses wireless and cloud technology to accurately monitor physical activity (heart rate, calories burned, efforts and time exercising). When you combine with the Elite HRV app, you are able to calculate HRV as well. These are just two examples of many options for calculating your heart rate variability.
So back to the point of tracking HRV…seeing how well your body is recovering from and how primed it is to adapt to stress. You’re asking yourself, why do I care? Because stress has so many negative effects on our body, that’s why!
The following are some of the many negative effects of stress:
– Brain-Difficulty concentrating, anxiety, depression, moody.
-Skin-Hair loss, dull/brittle hair, brittle nails, dry skin, acne.
-Cardiovascular-Higher cholesterol, high blood pressure, increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
-Joints and muscles-Increased inflammation, tension, aches and pains.
-Gut-Nutrient absorption, diarrhea, constipation, indigestion, bloating.
-Immune system-Decreased immune function, lowered immune defenses, increased risk of becoming ill, increase in recovery time.
-Reproductive system-Decreased hormone production, decrease in libido, increase in PMS symptoms.
The first step in decreasing your stress level is being aware so you can take steps to quell it. When you’re in a situation and you begin to feel anxious or upset, pause, take ten or so really deep breaths, and ask yourself if it’s worth getting stressed over. The quicker you can move on from tense moments the better. Tracking HRV obviously can’t help you avoid stress, it can, however, help you understand how to respond to stress in a healthier way. Athlete or not, HRV is a useful piece of data that can provide personal feedback about your lifestyle. You’ll notice your HRV will change as you adopt healthier habits such as more mindfulness, meditation, sleep, and especially physical activity into your life. So remember to breathe, not sweat the small stuff and…chill the F out! #nostresszone #betterwellbeing