What is heart rate variability?

Heart rate variability (HRV) is a sophisticated measurement of the variation in time between each heartbeat. We know that a heart rate that’s too slow, too fast, or irregular can signal a problem, so it’s only natural to think that a steady, regular pulse is a sign of a healthy heart. And you might also assume that having little or no difference in the time between each beat (that is, a low HRV) is best.

But the opposite is actually true. A highly variable heartbeat means that the interval between beats fluctuates, although only by a fraction of a second. For example, if your heart rate is 60 beats per minute, instead of one second between beats, you’d have 0.8 seconds between some beats and 1.2 seconds between others.

According to several studies, high HRV seems to signal a healthy heart, because it reflects the heart’s ability to respond quickly to rapid changes occurring throughout the body. HRV is actually a reflection of your autonomic nervous system rather than your heart. This primitive part of your nervous system works on autopilot, regulating your heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, and digestion. There are two parts: one governs the stress (fight-or-flight) response. The other controls the relaxation (rest-and-recovery) response.

In a healthy person, HRV should increase when your heart rate drops, as it does during relaxing activities such as reading or meditating. HRV decreases as the heart rate rises, such as when you exercise or are under stress. In fact, it changes constantly, both throughout the day and from day to day. But chronic stress, poor sleep, lack of exercise, and an unhealthy diet can disrupt the balance, and your fight-or-flight system can shift into overdrive.

Perhaps not surprisingly, low HRV is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. People with high HRV, on the other hand, tend to have higher fitness levels and be more resilient to stress. However, there isn’t a recommended HRV value because it varies widely, depending on your age, sex, fitness level, medical history, and genetics. Many smart watches and wearable health monitors feature programs that measure HRV, though it’s not clear just how accurate or reliable these readings are. But for some people, tracking their HRV may motivate them to make healthy lifestyle changes. In general, the greater your degree of physical fitness, the more variable the heart rate is.

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

Acts 4:18-31 And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”     

2 Chronicles 25:19 “You said, ‘Behold, you have defeated Edom.’ And your heart has become proud in boasting. Now stay at home; for why should you provoke trouble so that you, even you, would fall and Judah with you?”

1 Samuel 2:3 “Boast no more so very proudly, Do not let arrogance come out of your mouth; For the LORD is a God of knowledge, And with Him actions are weighed.

Proverbs 11:2 When pride comes, then comes dishonor, But with the humble is wisdom.

Proverbs 16:5 Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; Assuredly, he will not be unpunished.

Micah 2:3 Therefore thus says the LORD, “Behold, I am planning against this family a calamity From which you cannot remove your necks; And you will not walk haughtily, For it will be an evil time.

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