By Mark Ballou

I came down with my first real common cold this year, and in a while actually. Thought you might like to see how it reflected in my heart rate variability (HRV)…

Onset of illness

Heart rate variability, colds & acupunctureI came down with my first real common cold this year, and in a while actually. Thought you might like to see how it reflected in my HRV. My HRV baseline had been declining for some time which I had attributed to work and other factors but then I started feeling wonky on the day of my long run, and symptoms got progressively worse from April 10th to the 14th. I travelled on the 12th which added to this. I lay off running at the first sign I had a real illness. Symptoms peaked on the 14th, twice having resorted to drugs to get a decent night of sleep. No matter how I tried to relax before my ithlete HRV test both my HRM strap and the finger sensor report the highest RHR that I’ve recorded ever.


On the afternoon of the 14th I went to see my acupuncturist who sticks me full of needles, gives me some herbs and does some cupping on my back for my lung congestion. Yeah, all pretty medieval, whatever, but by the evening I’m feeling 75% better and the following day 85%. That was enough to get me off the drugs and on to herbs only.

The recovery

Heart rate variability, colds & acupunctureOver the days following my acupuncture treatment my HRV improved remarkably. By the following week it had stabilized. Other than some congestion that lingered in my lungs for those couple of weeks, I fully recovered by the beginning of week 3.

I eased back into training and am still not training quite at the volume I was prior to my illness (mainly due to work commitments). I still get in at least 3-4 running workouts a week and at least one solid Tai Chi training session on Mondays that I don’t record in the HRV app. I’m going to start swimming again once a week, and try and get in at least one weight training session maybe on a Tues or Thurs. I do Super Slow technique, which is a whole can of worms re: effectiveness. But I like it.

Reflecting on this whole thing, it makes me want to experiment with more acupuncture treatments. I’d be curious to see, without an illness, but maybe with just training fatigue, how well my HRV would respond to further treatments.

A word from the ithlete team

Looking at Mark’s experience and ithlete HRV data there are some important things to note from an outside perspective…

  • Heart rate variability, colds & acupunctureAs this screenshot shows the HRV baseline was declining for a couple of weeks before the symptoms of the illness set in. What this suggests is that Mark’s body was trying to fight the illness from then. It is possible that had Mark noticed the downward trend and allowed a little extra recovery time that his immune system would have been better able to prevent the bug.
  • The improvement in Mark’s daily HRV following the acupuncture session is striking, particularly considering it is above all other daily scores for over a week. It is unlikely rest alone would be enough to facilitate this type of bounce back from illness so quickly which indicates the recovery was significantly aided by the acupuncture.
  • Heart rate variability, colds & acupunctureMost impressively since the acupuncture session Mark hasn’t had a single amber, or red, daily indication and his baseline has risen above and beyond his pre-illness starting point. Whether this is attributable to the acupuncture is impossible to say, but we sure are looking forward to hearing more from Mark along this journey!

Follow up by Mark (late July)

MB follow1So what I’ve noticed since my initial report is a consistent correlation between illness and HRV. It’s uncanny how accurately my low HRV scores and trends align with illness. It also seems beyond coincidence how my HRV predictably bounces back with acupuncture treatments, which I’m coming to rely on more and more as a way to minimize the impact of illness and accelerate the healing process.

I’ve had more common colds this year than I’ve had in a while, which I’ll attribute to my increased training, having run my first entry level ultra distance, a 50K, on June 8th, and to a hectic work schedule with limited sleep.

In addition to my previous reports, I’ve had a few more incidents that illustrate how well ithlete is reflecting my health and, in particular, my response to acupuncture. The latest was late June.

MB follow2Around the 22nd and 23rd, in the middle of a particularly hectic workday, I started feeling a cold coming on. Many of my fellow employees were displaying symptoms and we were working in an environment where we were exposed to varying temperature changes throughout the day. I didn’t dress appropriately and knew it was a recipe for illness. I still hoped I’d avoid it. As my HRV displays, it dropped the 22 and 23rd, leveled out a bit and then on the 25th I had an acupuncture treatment. My HRV bounced back, not quite as dramatically as my first report, but significantly still. I recovered from that point on.

It really is interesting to note my acupuncture appointments this year and how they reflect in the data. Here are 4 sample time periods, noting my treatments, the decline in HRV and the improvements. Assume each treatment was during a bout with illness, as I haven’t had a session except when I needed to be treated.

MB accu table



FINALLY, I am training for the NYC Marathon, running for my Nephew Ripley and Autism Speaks.  More information on the fundraiser, what it means to me, about Ripley and THE FUNDRAISING DEADLINES that are approaching quickly, can be found here:

Thanks for reading!

-Mark Ballou