Heart Rate Variability and HRV/RFB Training for Health and Fitness

Dr Mehmet Yildiz

Here’s why I envision the key to good health resides between the spaces of our heartbeats.

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A doctor checking the heart rate of a patientImage by Antoni Shkraba on Pexels

Disclaimer: Please note that this post does not include health or professional advice. I documented my reviews, observations, experience, and perspectives only to provide information and create awareness of this important health measure.

Purpose of the Article

This article defines and introduces Heart Rate Variability (HRV) using credible sources and personal experience in the field. I aim to create awareness of this vital health metric, reflecting the current and future state of health and fitness.

I summarize my reviews, observation of elite athletes in my circles, and my decade of personal experience in Resonance Frequency Breathing (RFB) training that significantly improved my HRV and contributed to my well-being.

Metaphorically, the secret key to our good health might be hiding between the spaces of heartbeats that I explain based on reviews, observations, and years of personal experience.

Inspiration for the Article

I recently posted an article titled “Why Our Blood Oxygen Saturation Levels Matter and How We Can Improve Them.”

Subscribers who enjoyed this article wanted me to share my perspectives and experience on Heart Rate Variability (HRV) as they keep hearing about this concept a lot in the media.

Since HRV is a proven and critical health measure, and I have significant experience using this measure in my health and fitness journey, I decided to create a short article introducing it with takeaways.

First, I’d like to highlight the importance of cardiovascular health so that my points on HRV make sense.

Importance of Cardiovascular Health

The heart is a critical organ. For example, if it stops, we no longer exist in this world. The two crucial functions of the heart are to manage blood flow and oxygen in our tissues.

Like all organs, our hearts can have problems. Furthermore, as the heart depends on other organs like the lungs and brain, problems with those organs also impact the heart’s health.

Unfortunately, issues related to our hearts escalated so severely that cardiovascular diseases, mainly caused by atherosclerosis and chronic inflammation, became a massive concern to the public and governments.

Each year around 18 million people die from cardiovascular diseases. According to CDC (Centers for Disease Control), one person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular diseases.

Since cardiovascular diseases are critical, I summarized my investigation and perspectives in an article titled “Here’s How to Lower the Risks of Heart Disease and Strokes in Five Steps.”

In addition, I highlighted the importance of nitric oxide in lowering the risk of atherosclerosis in an article titled “Three Tips to Boost Nitric Oxide and Lower Heart Disease/Stroke Risks.” It is possible to increase nitric oxide production with lifestyle habits and supplements such as arginine and citrulline malate.

What does heart rate variability mean?

Heart rate variability is biofeedback indicating the amount of time and variation between heartbeats. The time between the beats constantly changes depending on biological and psychological reactions in the body and mind.

Low HRV scores indicate the formation of disorders in the body and mind. Therefore, HRV biofeedback enables us to adjust our physiology to improve our cognitive and cardiovascular functioning.

Our heart rate changes based on what we do at a specific time. For example, when we’re sitting or lying down heart rate slows. When we move or get excited, it beats faster. Heart rate variability shows a pattern for the biological needs of the body.

Since the fluctuations between heartbeats are in milliseconds, it is impossible to detect them with our senses. However, technology made this capability available to us.

“The analysis of heart rate variability found its use in the diagnosis of different clinical and functional conditions in the last decade.” [Source: MDPI]

This paper on Frontier informs that “HRV is an emergent property of complex cardiac-brain interactions and non-linear autonomic nervous system processes.”

As highlighted in the paper, “a healthy heart is not a metronome because it exhibits complex non-linear oscillations characterized by mathematical chaos.”

Heart rate variability can decrease as we get older. However, we can improve it, as I mention in subsequent sections.

How can we measure heart rate variability?

Medical specialists use electrocardiograms (ECG), seismocardiograms (SCG), and gyrocardiograms (GCG) signals. However, we can measure HRV at home by ourselves nowadays.

It is possible to measure heart rate variability with publicly available appliances. These devices can be linked to PC or smartphone apps that can show the results in graphical, text, and even in video format.

There are many brands offering hardware and software solutions. These devices can measure beat-to-beat variation for a specific time.

Features and prices of the devices vary. So, you might google these names to find the best option for you: Optimal HRV, Inner Piece, Elite, HRV, Somatic Vision, Garmin Premium, Suunto Smart Sensor, and Polar H10. There are many more.

Why is heart rate variability so significant?

Research into HRV is proliferating. Credible sources such as PubMed (National Library of Medicine) indexed over 55 thousand medical records related to HRV in English. Google shows 103,000,000 results when the keyword “heart rate variability” is searched.

The biology and rhythm of our hearts are highly complex. While the mentioned devices can give us clues and inspire us to take action, it is better to get our heart rate variability to be analyzed and interpreted by qualified healthcare professionals such as a cardiologist.

Seeking support from these professionals is extra crucial for those with underlying heart health conditions. I see my annual review with my cardiologist as an essential health investment.

Heart rate variability (HRV) does not indicate an emergency. However, HRV results might depict our current health problems. In addition, HRV results can also give us clues about our future health profile.

Athletes and bodybuilders use HRV biofeedback to understand their recovery times. They improve this metric because higher HRV scores equate to better performance. In addition, low HRV indicates injury and predicts health disorders.

In my perspective, the best value of HRV is to depict how adaptable our bodies are. By creating a baseline and training our hearts along the way, we can significantly improve our adaptability to different internal and external conditions, leading to better fitness and health.

Can we train to improve heart rate variability?

The short answer is yes to this question.

HRV education is one of my reasons for posting this article to create awareness of such training. Focus and commitment to HRV training can train our heart and nervous system, creating a better balance for the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves.

Anyone can participate in this type of training, usually offered by qualified professionals in health and fitness centers. And anyone can improve skills informally with resources available on the web. It is non-invasive.

However, technology, like measuring it and creating graphs, also made the training more accessible and easier for the public. There are hundreds of publicly available courses on the web.

The official name for this course, either for formal or informal courses, is “Resonance frequency breathing (RFB)” training.

RFB training is a skill to improve heart rate variability. I have been leveraging RFB training for over a decade, bringing me noticeable health, fitness, and well-being benefits.

Readers interested in details of RFB might check a well-documented review paper published on Frontier as part of the Horizon 2030 initiative titled “A Practical Guide to Resonance Frequency Assessment for Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback.”

Another study published on Frontier demonstrated the impacts and benefits of resonance frequency breathing on measures of heart rate variability, blood pressure, and mood.

Beginners of RFB training might start with the Resonant Coherent Breathing (RCB) method. I used RCB years ago to improve my sleep quality. I still use it to improve my HRV. You may find both day and night modes on YouTube.

The night mode can make us sleepy, and the day mode can keep us alert. Here is a sample RCB video on YouTube for night mode that you might use for your daily resonance frequency training.

Conclusions and Takeaways

The heart is a critical organ for our survival. Understanding its requirements is vital to lower risks and prevent diseases. Unfortunately, cardiovascular diseases are widespread and still increasing.

One of the effective ways to improve our cardiovascular health, which also contributes to our mental health, is to enhance the heart rhythm, known as heart rate variability, which I introduced in this article.

Focusing on our breath daily, we can practice resonance frequency training and significantly improve our heart rate variability. With this type of training, we can gain a better balance of our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

The value of HRV is crystal clear. Healthcare professionals use it to diagnose various illnesses, and professional athletes use it to improve their performance. It is not a new age topic and is undoubtedly not controversial, as perceived by a few usual skeptics.

Numerous smartwatches include HRV features coming with the software on smartphones. These devices are affordable and can be an excellent health investment.

Improving HRV provides tangible and intangible benefits. Measuring the improvement is straightforward and noticeable. The higher our HRV gets, the healthier and fitter we feel.

For me, mental clarity has been the best outcome of resonance frequency breathing and improvement of heart rate variability. Higher HRV indicated clearer thoughts and more balanced emotions for me.

In addition, my confidence significantly improved at work. For example, I became more socially intelligent and a better public speaker after improving my HRV.

In my experience, the best ways to improve my heart rate variability have been restorative sleep, regular exercise in the form of resistance (calisthenics) and aerobics (barefoot walking and trampoline), cold showers, fasting, and daily meditation with breathwork.

Thank you for reading my perspectives. I wish you a healthy and happy life.

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I write about important and valuable life lessons. My goal is to delight my readers. My content aims to inform and engage my readers. I'm a technologist, cognitive scientist, and postdoctoral researcher, with four decades of experience.

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