Have you ever thought about your heart rate? Probably not, beyond whether it’s beating or not. As chiropractors, we’re always looking at the health of the body in a holistic sense. 

Recently, we’ve been researching heart rate variability and what this can tell us about the health of the nervous system. 

Here’s everything you need to know about heart rate variability (HRV). 

 

So what is heart rate variability?

You might think your heart beats at regular intervals, kind of like a ticking clock, but this is not the case. In fact, there’s natural variation between our heart activity which can tell us a lot about our overall health. 

HRV is a measurement of the balance between your parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. Together, these two systems make up the autonomic nervous system which handles most of the body’s involuntary functions like breathing and heart rate. 

Our fight or flight feeling is caused by the sympathetic nervous system. For example, when we’re scared – our heart rate and temperature goes up. This is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system. On the other hand, the parasympathetic nervous system acts like a break, pausing the effects of the sympathetic nervous system.

Instead of ‘fight or flight’ – we call this response the ‘rest and digest’ portion of the body’s nervous system. When in this state, the body is able to undertake other tasks such as digestion and the production of saliva. 

A high heart rate variability show your nervous system is effectively switching between the two nervous systems. 

 

Why is heart rate variability important?

A high HRV means the body can efficiently change its heart rate depending on the activity being performed by the body. Sometimes the heart functions at a rock steady 60 beats per minute while watching TV. Other times the fight or flight response activates and triggers an immediate need to deal with or adapt to a stressful physical or mental encounter.

HRV is an important marker of health and studies have found that a higher HRV is associated with athletic performance, stable moods and better digestion. Low heart rate variability is associated with pain, inflammation and may even affect our ability to process and respond in high stress situations. 

What affects heart rate variability?

You can control and regulate your own heart rate variability through the use of breathing techniques. Being mindful of your intake of alcohol and caffeine can also affect your HRV as well as your sleep and exercise routines. The HRV can be an indicator of overall health and so improving aspects of your life can have a positive impact on your wellbeing and mood. 

Does chiropractic help with heart rate variability?

Regular chiropractic sessions have been shown to have an impact on increasing HRV – this is one of the many positive effects of chiropractic. 

High HRV is also associated with a reduction in pain, when combined with regular chiropractic adjustments. Chiropractors are equipped to help you monitor your HRV and best advice on how to improve it going forward. 

The field ofHRV is an interesting topic, with more research required and being carried out by scientists. We can’t wait to keep continuing with our learning and discovering more as the research becomes available.

Want to find out more?

If you have any questions about the body, nervous system and spine – please get in touch. We have many resources to share about living a happy, healthy life which you can find here.

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