What is Heart Rate Variability?

A healthy body is a flexible body – and the organs and systems within a healthy body are flexible too. That means they are adaptive and don’t get stuck in any one pattern of behavior.

For example, most peoples’ hearts speed up when they inhale and slow down when they exhale. How much change occurs between the fastest point and the slowest point is considered a measure of flexibility and is an increasingly recognized indicator of overall health. It is called Heart Rate Variability or HRV.

When this “peak to valley” difference is high and consistent, people tend to be more resilient in all the realms of health - mental, emotional and physical. When the difference is low and/or erratic, people tend to have less flexibility and therefore less resilience in their overall health. “Importantly, decreased HRV is almost uniformly associated with adverse outcome.” (Kleiger et al., 1992 Cardiology Clinician)

HRV, as a tool of biofeedback, uses the electrocardiogram (ECG) to monitor the peripheral heart rate and feed that information back to the client. Practice between sessions is required for someone to master HRV.

HRV is used for everything from pain management to increasing working memory. People with high HRV tend to be more optimistic than those with low HRV.

There is a natural loss of HRV during the aging process which makes training to increase it all the more important.

Unfortunately, people using beta blockers or who have pacemakers regulating their heart rates are not candidates for HRV biofeedback.