Heart Rate Variability + Your Recovery
All About HRV + How it Can Help Recovery
We've all seen it: the Nike or Gatorade commercial that shows someone waking up at 4 AM to run, then going on to boast about not taking any days off. Everywhere we turn, we see that people are being taught that strength and physical prowess are synonymous with pushing your body beyond its breaking point. While that commercial might motivate you for a day or two, is it really wise to push through your activities when you aren’t fully recovered? Research says no.
We are living in the age of innovation and cutting-edge technology. Due to our increased ability to measure and track our health data, scientists have more insight than ever before regarding the recovery process. Over the last few years, researchers, doctors, and elite trainers alike have all began integrating a new tool, Heart Rate Variability (HRV) into their professional practices, in order to ascertain how recovered an individual truly is.
What Exactly is HRV?
While heart rate focuses primarily on the average beats per minute, heart rate variability (HRV) measures the specific changes in time that occur between heart beats. Heart Rate Variability tells us the state of our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), giving us insight into whether or not our bodies are in a sympathetic (fight or flight), or parasympathetic (rest and digest) state. Knowing what state your body is in can tell you whether or not you are ready for more stress, or if you need to take a rest day from training. Additionally, since HRV integrates the nervous, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems, it can be a valuable tool used to detect physical, digestive, environmental, and psychological stressors that an individual may be experiencing.
What Does HRV Suggest?
Generally speaking, a low HRV indicates less variability in between successive heart beats, suggesting that our bodies are under excess stress. This stress can come from a myriad of sources, including: exercise, illness, work stress, family events, or other internal and external stressors. Conversely, a high HRV indicates a greater variability in between successive heart beats, generally suggesting that the body has an increased ability to withstand stress, or is recovering from stressful events successfully.
Research has shown HRV to be the best objective measurement regarding both the fitness level and overall health of an individual, as knowing your HRV is knowing how recovered your body is. Furthermore, studies have suggested that the real stimulus benefit of exercise occurs only after we've recovered properly, so being able to quantify our recovery is an invaluable tool for those who are truly looking to optimize their health.
How Do I Improve My Body's Heart Rate Variability?
As stated above, people who have a higher Heart Rate Variability are typically more resilient to stress, and have greater fitness levels; therefore, improving your HRV levels are a key component to health optimization. Decreasing inflammation is the most important thing that a person can do to increase their long-term HRV. Inflammation can come from diet, environment, and physical and mental stressors. There are several ways to reduce the inflammatory burden on our bodies and increase our personal HRV, including:
Whole Body Cryotherapy: A multitude of studies have shown that cryotherapy can suppress and improve inflammation markers in the body. Whole Body Cryotherapy has been measured in both athletes post-workout, and in patients who suffer from inflammatory diseases, arthritis, and joint dysfunction. Among this great variety of test subjects, WBC has demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects, as shown in the subjects' measurable C-reactive protein and inflammatory cytokine levels. Furthermore, the body's response to the healthy stress of cold exposure (also known as hormesis) can lead to improved sleep quality, thereby greatly improving HRV.
Sensory Deprivation and Float Tanks: Time and time again, research has shown that sensory deprivation therapy provides benefits for sleep, wellbeing, and mood. Moreover, float tanks have been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, pain, and depression, and increase feelings of optimism. Since stress is such an influential factor in an individual's recovery, mitigating the negative effects of stress is crucial to increasing HRV.
Photobiomodulation (PBM): Photobiomodulation is quickly becoming one of the most exciting modalities available to date. There are over 3000 studies that illustrate PBM's efficacy for a wide array of conditions. From elite athletes looking to enhance their recovery, to Parkinson's patients who are looking to improve their quality of life, research demonstrates the regenerative effects of Photobiomodulation on the body. One exciting study recommends PBM Therapy used alone is the best alternative among the therapies studied, as it reduced the expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines (both gene and protein) and PGE2 levels.
Oxygen Contrast Therapy: Oxygen Therapy has been used for years in the healthcare industry in the form of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy. The drawbacks to HBOT include time and financial constraints, and the fact that it may take a large number of sessions in order to notice any benefits. Oxygen Contrast Therapy is a phenomenal alternative, because not only does it possess similar benefits to HBOT, it is done in a quarter of the time. O2 Therapy can be a workout on its own, and high amounts of oxygen perfuse into the bloodstream, allowing for anti-inflammatory effects on the body. These anti-inflammatory effects lead to a down-regulation of your body's inflammatory cytokines.
A Note on Medications: Because most medications treat symptoms instead of the underlying disease, some medications can artificially increase HRV while masking the deeper autonomic function and health of the individual. This is why we believe it is more important than ever to use technology to track recovery, rather than waiting until damaging symptoms have already occurred.
Recovery Tools + Devices We Love
Oura Ring: The Oura Ring is one of the best sleep, body temperature, and HRV tracking devices on the market. It is small and discreet, making it less likely to interfere with your activities; therefore, you can wear it around the clock. Oura tracks your data in an easy to use phone application, and it even gives users a daily readiness score based on your recovery. Cryo Recovery is so excited to offer our members an exclusive discount code on their very own Oura Ring. At checkout, enter code cryorecovery for $50 off!
Whoop: Whoop is leading the pack when it comes to wearables for athletes. By wearing their tracking tools, Whoop has seen users improve upon their Resting Heart Rate and HRV. Additionally, Whoop users saw a reduction in both injuries and alcohol consumption, along with improved sleeping habits. Whoop is a subscription service, and is available for as little as $18/month.
Fitbit Alta HR: With sleep stages powered by PurePulse heart rate, the Fitbit Alta HR automatically tracks your time spent in light, deep, and REM sleep stages, and helps you to take steps towards a better night's rest.
Chest Strap and App: The cheapest option for tracking HRV is downloading a free app, (we like Elite HRV) and connect your heart rate with a chest strap. The best time to complete your heart rate measurement is the first thing in the morning before you start your day.
At Cryo Recovery, we pride ourselves on being up to date on the most cutting-edge research and technology that is available. We work closely with the brands who develop this technology, and always test products and modalities on ourselves first, in order to better help our customers with their own health and recovery needs. Wearable technology makes this process so unbelievably convenient, as wearing a small but powerful device takes the guesswork out of the equation.
Over the next several months, you will see the Cryo Recovery staff wearing Oura Rings around the store. We will be tracking our sleep habits, activity levels, and HRV to gain valuable insight into how our modalities are positively impacting our health. We will be integrating our health data into the new Cryo Recovery Health Dashboard, which will be officially rolled out later this year. With this new dashboard, members will be able to track their personal health trends by integrating all of their data in one place. The Cryo Recovery Health Dashboard allows members to sync their lab results, medical tests, check-ups, and recovery sessions all in one place. As we’ve discussed in previous posts, the proof is in the data, and we want to ensure that our members are getting the very best out of their Cryo Recovery membership.