HRV Fit awarded a grant for business-led innovation in response to global disruption due to COVID-19

After being contacted by ithlete users reporting unusual Heart Rate Variability (HRV) values during possible COVID-19 symptoms, we considered what links there might be between the two.

We applied for a grant from Innovate UK (part of the national funding agency investing in UK science and research) to investigate this further, and are delighted to report that our project, titled, ‘Using daily Heart Rate Variability measures to identify the onset and severity of COVID-19’ was one of the selected projects to receive the grant. This is a real honour and reflection on the potential of this study as only approx. 10% of applications were successful.

If successful, the project could contribute to future approaches identifying and monitoring the progression of COVID-19.

The project will see if changes in HRV are related to the severity of symptoms that individuals experience. Early detection of probable COVID-19 cases could enable earlier self-isolation, and/or earlier testing to help prevent the spread of the disease. Intelligence about the severity of the infection could also help individuals to manage their disease progression. This would have a significant impact on the individual in managing their illness, reducing the spread of infection and on the efficiency of intervention for the NHS.

What is the science linking HRV and COVID-19?

During infection, the body detects the presence of foreign cells (such as viruses) and elicits a protective response via the immune system. This response leads to a process known as inflammation, which acts to clear the infectious stimuli and initiate tissue healing. Although the inflammatory response helps to remove the stimuli, if the response is too great it can lead to harmful effects.

Studies looking at the level of inflammation (measured via so-called ‘inflammatory markers’) have shown differing levels of inflammation relative to outcomes of COVID-19 infection (Zhou et al., 2020).

Although the regulation of inflammatory responses is a complex process, one aspect of this may be familiar to ithlete users – the vagus nerve. Vagal activity is part of the pathway which acts to inhibit inflammation, via what is called a ‘cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway’ (see Huston and Tracey, 2011 for review). HRV is a non-invasive index of vagal activity; however, the question remains if HRV could provide a window into the body’s response to COVID-19 infection.

Getting started

Once set up, the project will ask for volunteers who have had/think they might have had COVID-19 to submit their HRV app data (not exclusively ithlete data) and complete a questionnaire about their COVID-19 symptoms. (If you think this may apply to you be sure to follow us on Facebook or Twitter as we will shortly be requesting participants).

An expert team will analyse the data to see if there is a relationship between changes in HRV and the onset or severity of COVID-19 symptoms.

Keep an eye on the blog, as the project progresses we will surely report back.

You can also read our press release here.

By Claire Forbes


Zhou, F., Yu, T., Du, R., Fan, G., Liu, Y., Liu, Z., Xiang, J., Wang, Y., Song, B., Gu, X. and Guan, L., 2020. Clinical course and risk factors for mortality of adult inpatients with COVID-19 in Wuhan, China: a retrospective cohort study. The Lancet. 395(10229), 1054-1062.

Huston, J. M., & Tracey, K. J. (2011). The pulse of inflammation: heart rate variability, the cholinergic anti‐inflammatory pathway and implications for therapy. Journal of internal medicine269(1), 45-53.