A measure of your autonomic nervous system, HRV is one of the best objective metrics of physical fitness and for understanding your body’s readiness to perform.
If it’s not something you’re already familiar with, make sure to check out our Ultimate Guide to Heart Rate Variability (HRV).
Healthy behaviors like exercise, hydration and proper nutrition, avoiding alcohol, and getting good quality sleep will all have a positive impact on your heart rate variability. Below we’ll take a deeper dive into each of these, as well as detail several other ways to boost your HRV.
Studies show that regular exercise is one of the best methods for improving your heart rate variability. However, for serious athletes, it is also important to avoid overtraining. Strenuous activity reduces HRV in the short term, so it is essential not to consistently take on too much strain without giving your body adequate time to recover. Here’s a more detailed explanation of intelligent HRV training.
It’s no surprise that a smart and healthy diet will benefit your HRV, but something many of us may not realize is that the timing of your food intake can affect it as well. Your body functions better when it knows what’s coming and regular eating patterns help maintain your circadian rhythm. Additionally, not eating close to bedtime (within 3-4 hours) will improve the quality of your sleep by allowing your body to focus on other restorative processes instead of digestion.
Your level of hydration determines the volume of your blood, and the more liquid you have in your system the easier it is for blood to circulate and deliver oxygen and nutrients to your body. Drinking close to an ounce of water per each pound that you weigh is a good daily goal. On average, when WHOOP members log that they are sufficiently hydrated their HRV increases by 3 milliseconds.
We’ve found that when WHOOP members report consuming alcohol, their HRV drops by an average of 22 milliseconds the next day. Additionally, our research has discovered that the lingering effects of alcohol in your system may continue to suppress your heart rate variability for 4-5 days. On the other hand, staying away from alcohol will do the opposite.
Getting all the sleep your body needs is a great start, but equally as important is making an effort to go to sleep and wake up at regular times each day. Sleep consistency will boost your HRV by helping to sustain your circadian rhythm, and also enables you to spend more time in REM and deep sleep.
Going outside in the sunlight after waking up in the morning and watching the sky change from light to dark in the evening trigger biological processes involved with regulating sleep/wake times (see sleep consistency above), energy levels and hormone production. This will also improve alertness, mood and vitamin D production.
Exposing your body to cold temperatures for brief periods of time (cold showers, ice baths, etc.) will stimulate the vagus nerve, which activates the parasympathetic branch of your autonomic nervous system and controls heart rate variability.
Studies indicate that slow, controlled breathing techniques can positively impact your HRV. They will also help to combat stress, which has been shown to inhibit heart rate variability. Learn more here about breathing methods and how they work.
Anecdotally, many WHOOP members have reported that practicing mindfulness and/or meditation has led to improvements in HRV. As with slow breathing techniques, both will help you reduce stress. In fact, even dedicating just one minute per day to mindfulness exercises can have real benefits.
The act of writing down things you’re thankful for each day can elicit a corresponding uptick in heart rate variability. It is also linked to lower blood pressure and decreases in stress hormones. For more on this, take a look at “Self-Rule” Choices to Increase Your HRV and Immunity.
WHOOP calculates heart rate variability during your deepest period of sleep each night in order to get the most reliable and consistent readings possible. This also gives you an accurate understanding of your baseline from which to monitor your HRV trends over time in the WHOOP app.
Additionally, WHOOP uses heart rate variability (as well as resting heart rate, respiratory rate and sleep performance) to calculate your recovery each day–a measure of how ready your body is to perform.
Learn More: Normal Heart Rate Variability (Average HRV Range by Age and Gender)