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
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 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.
Over 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…
- As 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.
- Most 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)
So 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.
Around 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.
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!
I have similar experiences, 2x this year so far of cold and diarrhea, that just days before getting ill my HRV and HR was all over the place outside my baseline and after the illness went away and felt recovered it took 2 weeks to get my numbers back to baseline. I guess you can say that I was NOT yet fully recovered until back to baseline. however, the acupuncture was a very interesting insight.
Very interesting to see your charts and HRV correlation to illness. Do you what herbs you were given? Wonder if they were adaptogens?
Glad this has proven some interest to others. I’ll have to check with my acupuncturist to see exactly what I was prescribed.
I continue to use iThlete daily and am pleased to report the trends with acupuncture and the common cold remain consistent. It really is uncanny. I just suffered a cold recently following the departure of all my guests that visited for the holidays. Had the telltale drop of HRV, followed with a acupuncture session on the 2nd of January and had an almost immediate spike, which then leveled out as I recovered. Whether the acupuncture contributes to my recovery is debatable, or we are just seeing my recovery reflecting in my HRV alone, I for one am not willing to go without a treatment. It just feels like when I don’t get acupuncture the symptoms linger longer and recovery generally slower, no to mention, the potential for cold rebounding even worse is greater. Either way, it’s just amazing the predictability with HRV!
Yes very interesting to see this stuff from the NON-sports perspective. HRV for all ! In my personal experience I have seen a similar one-day bounce-back of >10 points. It was from sorting out a trapped nerve. On another point. Currently I’m feeling healthy yet HRV is not where it should be; I know that again it is probably nerve/muscle related rather than over-training. It’s just finding the darned bit in question :-) I’m currently monitoring several athletes that I have got to use the ithlete system, so it is interesting (and of course useful) to regularly look at the experience of others. In terms of general health and well-being for the population I would be quite interested to see the usefulness of HRV for both the elderly and for heart attack recoverers – in both cases surely monitoring HRV can’t hurt at worst ? Although it then might turn is all into a nation of hypocondriacs !
I am 60 so I guess that puts me in the elderly range? I’ve monitored Hrv for health for over two years now. I can report similar drops in HRV each time I got a cold or upset tummy. But perhaps more interesting is that with no symptoms my BP suddenly rose to scary readings 188/110 over a few days after Christmas. A visit to doctor resulted in immediate medication. Since then my Hrv has dropped massively (minus 12 pts monthly figure) I also monitor rmssd and this has halved from a usual 52 ave to in the 20’s. I have told my doctor and despite knowing nothing of HRV he agrees it is corroborative of something going on in my body that is as yet unexplained.
Sorry to hear about this health episode. Did you notice your HRV decline before going to the Dr? If so, was HRV partly restored, or further decreased by the medication, and what medication is it? (so I can have a look for relevant studies).
Were the readings taken in supine, seated or standing position?