HRV is arguable the most important tool for recovery, enhancing sleep, increasing wellbeing, performance, stress recovery and nervous system balance. It doesn’t matter if you have the perfect diet, training routine and the best coach if you have an undermanaged stress response you will never be at peak performance. The goal is to provide you the tools to successful and efficiently manage the stress response in order to enhance performance and recovery.
What is HRV?
In its most simplistic form, HRV refers to the beat-to-beat variation in the time intervals between heart contractions. When we think about the oscillations of a healthy heart, they are actually quite complex. The healthy heart is typically seen as one that can rapidly adjust to sudden physical and psychological challenges. HRV is absolutely crucial to our overall health, resilience, and may be increased through different behavioural activation and practices, like effortless breathing, exercise, compassion practices, and mindfulness practices.
Many patients often feel that stress is a major contributing factor to their pain and performance. There is no doubt that this is shared with many folks across the globe. There is no denying that we as a society are facing an immense crisis of sustained chronic stress. How can we recover when we are continually bombarded with stress.
There are many forms of effective stress. Things like exercise, cold emersion, sauna, heat exposure and many more. This is referred to as eustress, which is a term for positive stress, and distress, which refers to negative stress. In daily life, we often use the term "stress" to describe negative situations.
Transient stress is required in order to assist with building strength, making us faster and more resilient. We call this hormetic stressors. This type of stress is needed and quite useful. These are acute and affect us in the short term. We can harness this acute stress to advance civilization and performance.
The type of stress that I’m referring to that I don’t want to have is this long-term systemic and chronic stress. These are everyday stressors that overtime continue to bite at us and take away all of our resources. Whether its finances, relationships, work, lifestyle, or overreaching, we have to be able to recognize when these are impacting our daily function. If we don’t manage this appropriately it will wreak havoc on our bodies and mind. We must mitigate this type of stress and not through just one thing but collectively through many modalities.
The core theme of HRV biofeedback is the following;
1. Becoming aware of our stress response. Becoming aware of how stress manifest in your body and mind and being able to catch it efficiently when it is going on is extremely important and is one of the key things we must have in place.
2. Once we become more aware we must be able to self-regulate. We must be able to integrate the appropriate tools to assist with decreasing our stress response.
The CNS consist of the brain and spinal cord, whereas the peripheral nervous system consist of the nerves that exit the CNS and travel to all areas of the body. The CNS and spinal cord are interconnected and have a bidirectional relationship. The HRV focuses on the autonomic nervous system and more specifically the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system directs the body's rapid involuntary response to dangerous or stressful situations. A flash flood of hormones boosts the body's alertness and heart rate, sending extra blood to the muscles directly related to the HPA axis.
The parasympathetic nervous system conserves energy as it slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and gland activity, and relaxes sphincter muscles in the gastrointestinal tract.
The transient stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system is normal and necessary in life. It becomes a problem when is becomes chronically stimulated as described above. We require a balance of the sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system, which will be measured through HRV technology.
The parasympathetic nervous system is predominately mediated by the 10th cranial nerve, which is the vagus nerve and is referred to rest and the digestive branch of the autonomic nervous system. The vagus nerve is mediated by a sense of safety and security. The vagus nerve can be intentionally stimulated by breathing, thereby giving a sense of safety and security. Breathing can stimulate the vagus nerve thereby increasing HRV on an acute way. By taking the time to take a deep intentional breath this is communicating to the parasympathetic nervous system that it is safe. The parasympathetic nervous system is like a brake to the sympathetic nervous system. It slows and calms us down.
HRV is a good tool to measure our physiology. Knowing our own HRV and modifying HRV can lead to improved mental health, optimizes our ability to recover and adapt after exercise, improves mental and cognitive performance, improves sleep, can help provide insight into the nervous system mitigating pain, increase homeostasis within the nervous system that leads to improved stress outcome and could be a detection system of the dysregulation in the CNS and peripheral nervous system.
We could use HRV as both a metric and a tool and assist with overall health and longevity. For example if someone encounters a stress response this will lower there HRV thus making him or her aware of what environmental interaction caused this response. You can also use HRV and see how breathing, cold exposure, massage, visual imagery, and certain positional exercises effect the HRV changes.
At SquareONE Rehabilitation, we complete a comprehensive HRV evaluation/consultation that focuses on multiple primary areas of mental and physical well-being. The higher the HRV is associated with a better prognosis when dealing with many chronic health issues. HRV can accurately and objectively monitor progression and regression of disease. There are 5 major categories that SquareONE Rehabilitation will attempt to uncover. These are physical health, nutrition, physical activity, sleep and emotional health. These are fundamental topics that need to be addressed with every person. We call this list the HRV optimization checklist, MTI Protocol. Our Health and Fitness Coaches and Practitioners administer this. From this evaluation, our Health and Fitness Coaches and Practitioners will develop a comprehensive collaborative, and tailored health plan to help you reach your personal goals (i.e., stress reduction, fatigue reduction, peak performance, etc.).
When someone has a low HRV measurement due to high levels of mental stress, high level of physical training or certain pathologies we can employ some acute HRV recovery methods such as;
1. Active recovery – low load, volume training such as a light jog, swimming and corrective exercise. Active recovery promotes positive tissue structural changes, increased blood flow to damaged tissue and can upregulate specific genetic material to facilitate regeneration,
2. There are also therapy techniques used by massage therapist, chiropractors, physiotherapists, acupuncturists, and psychologists among others. Through there training they have the ability to stimulate the PNS or SNS. HRV can guide the therapist or doctor how to best treat you that day based on your body’s ability to deal with different treatment.
3. Contrast hydrotherapy – changing from warm to cold bath for a short period of time.
4. Meditation techniques with music, breathing and mindfulness.
5. Sleep – plays a vital role in health.
6. Nutrition – high quality foods and hydration.
Please visit the ReCOVERY ROOM at SquareONE Rehabilitation for other modalities such as Infrared Sauna, NuCalm Therapy, NormaTec, DNS and Breathwork, etc.
The goal of the ReCOVERY Room is to help ReSTORE, ReBOOT and ReSHAPE a patient, and clients normal state of health, mind and strength. Recovery can be used as part of a rehab protocol, recovering from a strenuous workout such as high intensity training, high level athletic training or workloads due to ones lifestyle.