Heart Attack and Cardiac Arrest

What is the HRV Value in ECG Test Report?

Last updated on December 20th, 2022 at 06:16 am

What is the HRV Value? Our heart is a central part of our lives in many ways. We might have a heart-to-heart talk, put our hand to our heart, have a heart of gold, or a change of heart. While it’s clear that this blood-pumping organ is important for the way in which we talk about the world, it is of course also central to our physiology.

It is of course an understatement to say that the heart is critical for our well-being. But while we may often think of our hearts in relation to our health, there is also much more to these beats that can tell a deeper story of who we are.

Heart rate variability (HRV value) is literally the variance in time between the beats of your heart. So, if your heart rate is 60 beats per minute, it’s not actually beating once every second. Within that minute, there may be 0.9 seconds between two beats, for example, and 1.15 seconds between two others. The greater this variability is, the more “ready” your body is to execute at a high level.

What is the Heart Rate Variability (HRV)?

One of the first things to know when understanding heart rate is that the most informative metric relies not just on the heart rate, but how much the heart rate varies. What’s often at first glance counter-intuitive about this metric is that a higher heart rate variability (HRV) is associated with good health, the more your heart jumps around (to an extent, of course), the readier you are for action. On the other hand, a low HRV is associated with ill health, it is a significant predictor of mortality from several diseases.

As popular as the metaphor may be, a healthy heart doesn’t beat as regularly as a metronome, it actually changes its rhythm with each beat. This constant variation in milliseconds between your heartbeats is known as your heart rate variability (HRV).

Some situations result in an increase in variation (high HRV), while others cause the intervals between beats to stay more constant (low HRV). You may be unaware of these subtle variations, but they reflect your heart’s ability to respond to different situations. HRV can react to stress and/or illness before resting heart rate (RHR), which makes it one of your body’s most powerful signals, providing useful insights into your stress levels, recovery status, and general well-being.

HRV and Autonomic Nervous System

Although HRV manifests as a function of your heart rate, it actually originates from your nervous system. Your autonomic nervous system, which controls the involuntary aspects of your physiology, has two branches, parasympathetic (deactivating) and sympathetic (activating).

  • The parasympathetic nervous system (often referred to as “rest and digest”) handles inputs from internal organs, like digestion or your fingernails and hair growing. It causes a decrease in heart rate.
  • The sympathetic nervous system (often called “fight or flight”) reflects responses to things like stress and exercise, and increases your heart rate and blood pressure.

Heart rate variability comes from these two competing branches simultaneously sending signals to your heart. If your nervous system is balanced, your heart is constantly being told to beat slower by your parasympathetic system, and beat faster by your sympathetic system. This causes a fluctuation in your heart rate, HRV.

What is the Normal HRV Value?
Heart Rate Variability Hrv Chart

Image Source: Whoop

You can see that for the most part, HRV decreases abruptly as people get older. The middle 50% of 20-25 year olds usually have an average HRV in the 55-105 range, while 60-65 year olds tend to be between 25-45. Heart rate variability is an extremely sensitive metric. It fluctuates greatly throughout the day, from one day to the next, and from one person to another.

Younger people tend to have higher HRV than older people, and males often have slightly higher HRV than females. Elite athletes usually have greater heart rate variability than the rest of us, and within that subset, endurance athletes regularly have higher HRV than strength-based athletes. But, none of this is absolute. There are plenty of extremely fit and healthy people out there whose HRV is regularly in the 40s. What constitutes a healthy heart rate variability differs for everyone.

What the HRV Value is Indicating?

When you have high heart rate variability, it means that your body is responsive to both sets of inputs (parasympathetic and sympathetic). This is a sign that your nervous system is balanced, and that your body is very capable of adapting to its environment and performing at its best.

On the other hand, if you have low heart rate variability, one branch is dominating (usually the sympathetic) and sending stronger signals to your heart than the other. There are times when this is a good thing–like if you’re running a race, you want your body to focus on allocating resources to your legs (sympathetic activity) as opposed to digesting food (parasympathetic activity).

However, if you’re not doing something active low HRV value indicates your body is working hard for some other reason (maybe you’re fatigued, dehydrated, stressed, or sick and need to recover), which leaves fewer resources available to dedicate towards exercising, competing, giving a presentation at work, etc.

To look at it another way, the less one branch is dominating the other, the more room there is for the sympathetic (activating) branch to be able to come in and dominate, which is why high HRV value suggests you’re fit and ready to go.

Why the HRV Values Variate?

When you begin using a heart rate variability monitor, you may notice that your HRV varies greatly from day to day. This can be attributed to the many factors that affect it (more on this shortly), and is perfectly normal. If your friend has a higher HRV value than you do today, that is not an indication that they are more fit than you are.

Rather than comparing your heart rate variability to others, a more practical use of HRV is to follow your own long-term trends. For example, if you’re taking steps to improve your fitness and overall health, over time you should see a gradual increase in your average heart rate variability.

Similarly, a downward trend in your HRV values over several days is worth paying attention to. Among other things, it might be a sign that you’re training too hard, not sleeping enough, getting sick, eating poorly, or failing to hydrate properly.

How to Improve the HRV Value?

Methods for increasing HRV include the following;

Total Time: 90 days

  1. Intelligent Training

    Don’t overdo it and push too hard for too many days without giving your body an opportunity to recover.

  2. Hydration

    The better hydrated you are, the easier it is for your blood to circulate and deliver oxygen and nutrients to your body. Aiming to drink close to 2 litres of water each day is a good goal.

  3. Avoid Alcohol

    One night of drinking potentially decreases HRV values for up to five days.

  4. Steady Healthy Diet

    Poor nutrition has adverse effects on HRV values, as does eating at unexpected times.

  5. Quality Sleep

    It’s not just the amount of sleep you get that matters, but also the quality and consistency of your sleep. Going to bed and waking up at similar times each day is beneficial.

  6. Auto-Regulation

    In general, trying to get your body on a consistent schedule (in particular with sleep and eating to align your circadian rhythm) is helpful. Your body does things more efficiently when it knows what’s coming.

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