The Importance of Heart Rate Variability (HRV) to Health, Wellness, and Performance – Part 2

If you did not read the first post in this series, you should probably go back and read my introduction to HRV, here, because it will help. If you don’t, I think this post will paint the picture too.

Basically, in this post, I wanted to go into more detail about how HRV relates to health and fitness. As a disclaimer, you must understand that this information is not the absolute answer to all disease and poor health. The entire world is not going to be cured by monitoring HRV, but research from many fields can be brought together to reveal a link between central nervous system function and the influence it has on stress, inflammation, and disease, and vice versa.

In the first post, I began talking about inflammation and our health, so I wanted to detail that a bit more by talking about how it relates to the onset of overtraining, illness, and even disease.

A fantastic book I have been listening to, written by Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University, and titled Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, brings to light the intimate connection chronic stress has on our health. It is a fantastic book, and if you are turned on by science, it will definitely make you want to start making some changes in your life.

 

Imagine: You are chronically stressed day in and day out, for non-specific reasons such as job stress, lack of sleep, relationship stress, less than “perfect” nutrition, etc… Then you go to the gym every single day because it is basically a pseudo-stress reliever because it makes you proud of yourself, your body is bangin’,  and your Instagram followers are loving all the pictures and tell you that you’re such an inspiration.

However even that can turn into a stressor when you get so popular  you have to start worrying about all the haters!

Obama - do you even lift

Haters gon’ hate, playa!!

In reality though, that daily training regimen that is not periodized, not balanced, and essentially goes un-tracked, is actually just additional stress you are adding to your body. Then, you have no idea why some days you are “setting the world on fire” in the gym and some days you should have just stayed on the couch, literally, but C.T. Fletcher told you when he started lifting he did “bicep curls every single day, motha F***a.”

Hence, you are going to be in the gym EVERY SINGLE DAY… because (disclaimer: on this upcoming link: If you do not like bad language, do not click this link… seriously.) C.T. Fletcher told you so!  Oh, and don’t tell C.T. Fletcher about over training and too much stress because there is no such thing.

O.K. I digressed.

Anyways, how does all this built-up, chronic stress eventually affect your health? In a relatively recent  research paper, Cohen et al. (2011) noted that chronic psychological stress is linked to a greater risk of the common cold, depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmune disease, upper respiratory infections, and poorer wound healing.

How can this be!?

Because down regulation of the number and sensitivity of glucocorticoid receptors… blah blah blah. The short answer is that there is TOO MUCH INFLAMMATION secondary to the immune system’s  lack of ability in appropriately decreasing inflammation due to the chronic bombardment of stress related hormones (i.e. cortisol) (Cohen et al., 2011). Remember all that vagus nerve and anti-inflammatory pathway talk from part 1?

In part 1, I briefly mentioned that inflammation is not inherently a bad thing. I would venture out and say that nothing our body does is inherently bad because it is doing what it does best, which is maintain homeostasis to survive. Sometimes though what our body does to maintain homeostasis ends up causing other problems. In other words, our body is great at fixing stuff in the short-term without contemplating what will happen down the road. It will figure out the consequences later, and when it runs out of options… it will just die (assuming we did not have awesome physicians and pharmaceutical drugs to keeps us alive).

Anyways, inflammation or increasing levels of inflammatory cytokines is NOT an inherently bad blood marker. In healthy people inflammation serves a purpose such as in leukocyte recruitment, antibacterial activity, and dendritic cell maturation. It is when cytokine inflammation becomes excessive and we cross a threshold we start to see problems. Thus, if we can monitor this threshold, and make sure we do not cross it we may be able to affect health and wellness (Jamison, 2014)!

I know people like lists, so I am going to list areas of health and wellness HRV monitoring has been correlated to (Jamison, 2014):

  • Predicting cardiac disease
  • monitoring epileptic seizures
  • observing effects of aging, with respect to gender
  • monitoring the effects of environmental factors
    • tobacco
    • pollution
  • Assessing the effects of body composition change
    • HRV can help you lose weight
  • Monitoring the effects of asthma
  • Depression
  • Poor sleep quality

This brings us full circle. We MUST regulate daily stress. Somethings in daily life, such as your boss being an a** can not be regulated, but our training regimens can be and should be.

BioforceHRV-Package-300x176

Over all, using the Bioforce HRV system is a great way of monitoring your body’s ability control inflammation levels and by association daily stress. Interestingly, a higher HRV score will correlate to better health and wellness due to all the things I have said about and in Part 1 about the ability of the vagus nerve to help decrease inflammation.

The bottom line on HRV is that this stuff is FOR REAL! This is about as evidenced based as it gets, as I said before there are literally thousands of research papers written on this stuff.

Congratulations, on reading this doozy of a post! If you are still interested after this one, then stay tuned for Part 3, where I will talk about how to use HRV to increase performance!

References:

Cohen, S., Janicki-Deverts, D., Doyle, W. J., Miller, G. E., Frank, E., Rabin, B. S., & Turner, R. B. (2012). Chronic stress, glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk. Psychological and Cognitive Sciences109(16), 5995-5999.

Jamison, J. (2014).  HRV for Health and Welness Part 1. Podcast retrieved from http://www.bioforcehrv.com

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