Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is an excellent measure of overall health and fitness. Upward trends have consistently been shown to correlate with increases in health, fitness and sporting performance. So how do you get your baseline rising?
1. Sleep well, especially if you are training hard
The first 4 hrs are especially important as this is where most of the night’s slow wave sleep occurs when human growth hormone & testosterone are produced. One of the first things most people notice when tracking HRV is how significantly sleep can impact their day to day readings.
2. Slow deep breathing
Yoga practices such as Pranayama breathing have been known for centuries to promote relaxation, stress reduction and concentration. The parasympathetic nervous system is particularly stimulated when breathing with a cycle time of around 10 seconds. One easy way to achieve this is to breathe in through your nose for a count of 5, then out through the mouth for another count of 5. Ideally do this just before sleep, when first waking, and any time during the day they feel stressed. You may be surprised at how much your HRV increases over the next few days – I was!
3. Train below your aerobic threshold
Conducting the majority of your training below first lactate (or aerobic) threshold significantly reduces the body’s stress and inflammatory reactions compared to higher intensities. Both stress and inflammation lower HRV, whereas low intensity (Z1/2) training boost HRV and lowers your resting heart rate. More on the research here.
4. Cold showers
Cold showers have been found not only to boost your HRV, but also to reduce your chances of getting winter colds and flu by up to 25%. The good news is that you only have to turn the tap to fully cold for 15-30s at the end of a hot shower to get the benefits.
5. Pay attention to your diet
A Mediterranean diet has been associated with raised HRV and longevity. The starting point is to eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, use both alcohol and caffeine moderately, and to avoid refined carbs and sugars whenever possible.