I HEART RATE VARIABILITY
“An optimal level of HRV within an organism reflects healthy function and an inherent self-regulatory capacity, adaptability, or resilience,” – McCraty and Shaffer
Show of hands if you have too much stress in your life! Whoa, too many hands in the air to count. Lol. It’s true we live in a stressful world and it’s not getting any less stressful either! That’s what makes your care at the office and the Life by Design seminars we host so important – since we’re never going to help you lower all the stressors in your life, we can certainly help you raise your adaptability to them and that’s the big reason we test Heart Rate Variability in milestone assessments.
We all know that a low heart rate is indicative of a ‘fit’ heart and generally the lower the heart rate the more efficient your heart but did you know that’s just one aspect of your heart’s health?
It wasn’t that long ago, when science believed that the heart acted like a metronome, pumping blood through your circulatory system in a static, steady rhythm, like this:
1 sec… 1 sec… 1 sec… 1 sec… 1 sec… 1 sec… 1 sec… 1 sec…
What we know now, is that the actual beat-to-beat intervals of your heart, goes something like this:
0.91 sec… 1.05 sec… 1.02 sec… 0.92 sec… 1.06 sec… 1.03 sec… 0.98 sec… 0.99…
From these numbers we can imagine the average heart beat here being around every second for say, 60bpm but it’s the slight variations between each beat that represents one’s heart rate’s variability and adaptive response to stress, sickness and physical activity. Though it seems counter intuitive, variation between beat-to-beat intervals represents a healthier the heart, the more monotonous, the less.
So, what does that have to do with stress? Well, your heart gets its beating instructions primarily from your autonomic system which is made up of the a) parasympathetic nervous system, which we associate with “rest and digest” functions and the b) sympathetic nervous system which we use for “flight, fight or flight” responses. In a sense, these two systems compete with each other to control the heart.
Although generally the greater the HRV, the better, having a dominant parasympathetic (related to the functions of the Vagus Nerve) can lead to too much variability which can leave one slow to arouse, feeling lethargic and suggestive of underlying health conditions such as arrhythmia or metabolic diseases that affect the nervous system.
When you have a dominant sympathetic system, it increases your HRV and makes you hyperactive, reactive, and harder to calm down, over time this can become indicative of aging, chronic stress, pathology, or an inability of your body being able to function important self-regulatory control systems.
As you can see, variable imbalances (especially on the sympathetic side) activate stress responses in our bodies and if unchecked will never allow us to ‘reset’ and can lead to a wide range of chronic dysfunction and disease processes.
Understandably, the healthier we are, the more ‘balanced’ these systems are with each other the better our variability and ability to activate either system when we need them.
We test HRV in the office by using The Pulse Wave Profiler (PWP). It’s a simple test where you stay seated in a relaxed position for a 5 minute scan as the instrument collects data on your Instantaneous Heart Rate (IHR) and Skin Conductance Response. (SCR). From that data we are able to calculate a single number score that reflects your neural efficiency index.
Using HRV values in our assessments allows us to measure and monitor the impact of stress throughout your care plan and see and highlight improvement in the state of your autonomous nervous system. The caveat is that research shows that regular Chiropractic adjustments can help improve HRV scores, which means better adaptive responses to stress and an improved quality of life — Something we all aim for.
Brent is the Tech CA and resident so-it-all for the Cafe of Life. Brent drinks coffee, eats dark chocolate, has 3 boys and even lived in Japan for 12 years.