Heart rate variability (HRV) is a measure of the interval between each of the beats of your heart. The amount of variation is an indication of your overall ability to adapt to the environment. When your body is under high amounts of stress, the HRV becomes lower, reducing your ability to adapt. When you are in a calm and attentive state, then your HRV becomes higher, increasing your ability to adapt.
So More Variability is Better?
Yes. It is a common assumption that a steady heart rate is a sign of better health. When you think about it, it makes a lot more sense that you have better health when you have more variability in your heart rate, since that means your body is adapting to each situation instantly. You should know that a higher HRV means better health. High heart rate variability is associated with having a lower heart rate, and better overall fitness.
For example, if you are checking your heart rate, you may count the number of pulses over a minute. If your pulse is 60 beats per minute, that is an average of 1 per second. If every heart beat occurred exactly every 1.0 seconds, then you would have a low heart rate variability (HRV). Conversely, if the interval between beats varies from 0.7 seconds to 1.3 seconds, your variability is better and you are adapting more fluidly to your body’s needs. In other words, a higher variability is healthier.
When Was Variability First Noticed?
“The Rev. Stephen Hales (1733) was the first to note that pulse varied with respiration and in 1847 Carl Ludwig was the first to record RSA (respiratory sinus arrhythmia). With the measurement of the ECG (1895) and advent of digital signal processing techniques in the 1960s, investigation of HRV and its relationship to health and disease has exploded.” (1)
Why Measure HRV At Rest?
Your body raises your heart beat during exercise, and lower your heart rate at rest. Those new to HRV are often left wondering why we don’t just make you walk on a treadmill to raise your heart rate. HRV, by definition, is the measurement of variability at rest. It is the ability for your body, via the nervous system, to control your heart rate with precision and detail. High HRV is analogous to having better internet to watch a video. Your heart has a clearer and stronger signal, with less lag, that means you have a higher and better HRV.
Over 50,000 Scientific Articles on HRV
HRV is not exactly a household name with the general public. HRV is used by some leading professionals in the health and wellness field. Heart rate variability provides a look at long-term function and health. People who use HRV most in practice are chiropractors and team trainers and conditioning specialists, since they are typically the people trying to enhance and optimize health in humans.
Most notably, scientists have used HRV extensively in research for over 60 years, and there are over 50,000 articles about HRV published in scientific journals.
An Indicator of Damage from Stress
Medical and surgical practitioners are typically not as interested in HRV since it is not a useful predictor of life-threatening illness in the short term. Stress causes damage over the course of decades, and so wellness practitioners find HRV a useful guide for improving lifestyle and performance.
The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)
Although it is a heart measurement, clinicians use HRV more specifically to see how the autonomic nervous system is behaving. The autonomic nervous system is the “primitive” system in the body that unconsciously controls the trillions of processes in the body that support the life form called “you.” Not primitive at all, when you think about it! The autonomic nervous system is actually a very complex neurologic array within the brain, and spinal cord. It extends into all the organs and glands in your body.
The Balancing Act
The ANS has two sub-systems. The first is the Sympathetic Nervous System or “flight or fight” system. A sympathetic response happens in fearful situations. This means adrenaline will squirt into your blood stream. Physiologically, this can preserve your life if used in short duration. The parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the “rest and digest” response is the counterpart of the flight or fight response. When you have balance between these two systems, you have better adaptability, and better HRV.
Why Measure HRV?
The purpose and mechanism of the chiropractic adjustment is to improve the function of the nervous system. Specifically, the sympathetic (upper back) and parasympathetic (neck and lower back) ganglia are located at the spinal column. One of the goals of the adjustment is to improve nerve function and create sympathetic-parasympathetic balance.
Measuring HRV At Home
There are a number of apps that monitor HRV using a bluetooth monitor (sorry, apple watch is not a good option for this). Some apps are better than others, and you should experiment with scrutiny. On the plus side, measuring HRV is completely non-invasive, so I would not say there is any physical “risk” to trying different ones.
Today we posted a video about the Greens First Power Shake. You have undoubtedly noticed how we always have Greens First in supply at our office. This combination of the greens first powder with the protein powder is a particular favourite for my family.
Greens First is a delicious way to supplement the body with the vegetables you probably don’t get in your regular diet. It contains all the phytonutrients from 15 servings of organic and non-GMO fruits and vegetables.
The protein powder is one of the most delicious available, and gives your body the perfect blend to recover from a hard workout, or an injury.
I have been recommending it for years. In addition to being available in our office, it is now available on our online Fullscript shop. All you have to do is click the link, enter your email, and you will have access to hundreds of professional-grade products. We give you an awesome discount, and it gets delivered to your door.
The key to having a great experience with the shake, is to mix it with ice so it is cool and refreshing. At room temperature, it still tastes better than just about every premium shake out there, but when you shake it with ice, it becomes an absolute treat.
Check out how to do it in the video that Estella and I made together. After watching it, make sure you give it a like and subscribe. If you subscribe I will do a pushup.
It feels like summer is just heating up. School is the farthest thing from my mind, but my wife, being the organized one, has brought home two new backpacks, all ready for the upcoming school year. That’s when I came to the realization that the kids start school in just a few weeks, and if you haven’t done so already, you have to start thinking about backpacks.
This year we bought two backpacks from Beckman of Norway for my 6yo and 9yo.These bags are recommended by the Canadian Chiropractic Association.I will describe these in a moment, but first here are 8 backpack tips to always remember.
1: Only pack what you need.
Put everything out in front of you, remove the extras and pack only the essentials.
2: Load it Evenly.
If you have more to the left or right, then your child will feel off balance.Place the heaviest item on the innermost part of the bag.
3: Make sure it’s the right weight
10-15% of the body weight is acceptable. For my kids, that usually means about 5 lbs. If you don’t have a luggage scale, you may be able measure by difference, by weighing your child both with and without the bag and calculating the difference.
4:Make sure the straps are tightened
Backpacks have adjustable shoulder straps, and most have chest straps and waist straps. Make sure the bag is resting in the contour of the back.
5:Ask if it is comfortable.
Adjust it and ask your child if it is comfortable. They are the ultimate feedback. If they do not find it comfortable, or think there is something wrong, there probably is something wrong. Also, if it’s uncomfortable, they will not use it correctly.
6: Monitor their comfort regularly
Monitor their comfort throughout the year.Straps can become longer and shorter, mistakenly adjusted, and don’t assume it is remaining perfect for the whole year.Also empty it out, and make sure forgotten items aren’t weighting your child down.
7:Lift with the legs when picking it up.
Keep the feet flat and bend at the knees with the torso upright.If you or your child has stiff ankles or hips, you may have trouble doing this, and you may need to have it addressed by a professional. Remember kids copy their parents, so if you want them to lift correctly, do it yourself as well.
8: Always wear both straps.
Carrying a bag with one strap promotes uneven posture, and their spinal adjustments will not last as long.
This year we bought two backpacks from Beckmann of Norway.These bags are recommended by the Canadian Chiropractic Association. Many of them have a frame that is shaped like the back, and the bag can be adjusted to raise the load above the hips for more comfort.They have a reflective material for safety and they have these cool interchangeable patches that the kids love.
These backpacks are a bit of an investment but they are an important piece of equipment that you child will use for at least the whole year, so it is worth considering since it can benefit their health.
Sleep position can dramatically change your posture and your health.
“What position should I sleep in?” It is one of the most common questions I receive in the office. It is a natural question, after all. Many back problems cause people to stay up late, wake up too early, or wake up stiff and sore. Since the pain is interfering with our sleep, it is a natural assumption that we can somehow twist and contort, untwisting and re-aligning ourselves like a Rubik’s cube to somehow reach a position that gives us sleep-nirvana. It is then our assumption that when we reach this magical pose, we shall remain there all night, and awake refreshed and new.
Is it the mattress?
When we wake in pain it is a natural assumption that your mattress is a problem. It could be. If it is very old, you have a problem falling asleep because it is uncomfortable, or if it is sagging, then you may definitely need a new mattress.
If your mattress is reasonably comfortable and not sagging, but you are waking up in pain, the issue is not the mattress, you have a back problem. In other words, you should be able to sleep on any reasonably comfortable surface
Now that we have cleared that up, we can move on to the pillow. My second favourite pillow is a Therapeutica pillow. The Therapeutica has a central section that supports the neck while sleeping on your back. What makes it different is a wedge that comes down between your shoulder blades. This allows your shoulders to come back, reversing the forward rolling that occurs when we slouch during the day.
But, that’s only my second-favourite pillow. My favourite pillow is no pillow at all. When you lie on your back with no pillow, it allows your head to come back into a straight-up posture.
But Gary, I sleep on 2 pillows!
If you sleep on your back and use two pillows, I have some bad news. If you have trouble lying flat on your back and need pillows under your head, you are likely developing postural deformation in your neck. This deformity where the head is too far forward, is called anterior head carriage. Lying on your back with multiple pillows is like being in bad posture all night long.
When you sleep with multiple pillows and on your back, it is common to wake up with arms that are numb, headaches and a sore neck.
Should I sleep on my stomach?
We professionals spent decades telling patients to sleep on their back or side. If you sleep flat on your stomach, your head will be turned so you can breathe. This would theoretically put too much stress on the neck, it would wrinkle your face, and you would drool everywhere.
The truth is that when people sleep on their stomach, they don’t just lie face down, they tend to bend one leg and place a hand under their shoulder. This means that the neck rotation is only about 40 degrees. Not only is this good to maintain rotation, but it is good because by sleeping on your stomach, it brings the head out of that anterior head carriage, and it improves your posture.
Should I throw out my pillow?
You can take your pillow and place it under one of your shoulders. This brings the shoulder a couple of inches back so your head does not need to rotate so far. This also creates a space for your chest so your shoulders will come a little farther back and improve your posture.
What about my lower back?
The most common problem with the lower back is a loss of the lumbar curve. Our overly-sitting culture tends to create a rounding of the lower back. If you sleep on your side, the lower back will tend to stay rounded. The hip flexors will remain shortened all night long.
If you sleep on your stomach, one leg will usually remain straight. This allows that hip flexor to lengthen. Having one leg bent allows the lower back to extend, bending backward, and allows the muscles of the lower back called the paraspinals, to relax.
This is all a surprise to most people. For decades, experts have said to sleep on your back or side or suffer extreme consequences. This may be true if your head is on a pillow. By ditching the pillow and practicing 3 sleeping positions you can have better posture and reduced pain in the morning. The niche thing about being a scientist is that things keep changing and improving. They used to tell us not to put water on burns.
1: On your back. Use no pillow. If your low back is sore you can put a pillow under your knees, and put another one under your lower back, just not under your head.
2: On your stomach turned to the left. Put a pillow under your left shoulder and wrap your left arm around the pillow. Put your right arm down by your right side, (not above the head). If you put your right arm above the head, it will rotate the rotator cuff all the way, and that could become a problem by morning.
3. On your stomach turned to the right. Put a pillow under the right shoulder, wrap your right arm around the pillow, and left arm down by your side.
Dr. Gary Barone is the owner of Una Vita Chiropractic. He has been a practicing Chiropractor in Port Moody since 2000. Dr Barone is an Internationally Certified Chiropractic Sport Physician and became a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist in 2011. He is Certified by the Academy of the College of Chiropractic Pediatrics. You can find him playing soccer, playing hockey or running in Burnaby, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Anmore and Belcarra. He also loves skiing and bike riding with his children Alexander (8) and Estella (5) at his second home in Whistler BC. He frequently visits Perth, Australia from where his wife Catherine hails.
My journey with mindfulness, at least in a deliberate form, began when I was about 19 years old. I wrote a report in psychology 101 about meditation, mostly centred around a book called The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson. Herbert Benson was a medical doctor who framed transcendental meditation in a way that western people would accept it.
I was one of those people.
I never talked about it, or called it “transcendental meditation,” I just did it. That’s because the universe, at the time, was trying to convince me meditation was crazy. It was a time when the Natural Law Party just arrived in Canada. The well- publicized and ridiculed practice of yogic flying was weird enough to make me avoid the brand “Transcendental Meditation” altogether.
Hilarious! Yet the science in Benson’s book was convincing. A few years later I found the same practice gaining popularity, using the term “Mindfulness.” (Thankfully, there was no bouncing). I was willing to go with that. Jon Kabat Zinn wrote a book called Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. I read it over and over again, usually a chapter at a time, so each topic had time to enter my everyday life.
The New Zen Masters
Now “Mindfulness” has gained a lot of popularity. There are apps like “Muse” and “Headspace.” My wrist watch tracks minutes of “mindfulness” right along with my steps, exercise, sleep and heart rate. It’s a really big deal. Electronics are an interesting tool, but no, the new Zen Masters are not apps or robots.
My own meditation practice has waxed and waned over the years, and I was looking for a little inspiration. I found out I could travel to the US attend a mindfulness retreat where I could meet John Kabat Zinn. After contemplating the time away from my family, I decided not to go, but there was his book on my shelf. It was right there, right now. Free. And so I opened it up.
You know, they say that when a pupil is ready, the teacher appears. When I opened the book this time, a chapter appeared that I had never noticed before. It was called “Parenting as Practice.”
I would have to give up the retreats, at least for some time, I said to myself that I could always return to the contemplative setting when my children had grown up enough not to need me around all the time…
This chapter, at least in my consciousness, did not exist before. I had no reason to read it. But now here it was, telling me to stay home. Affirming that my priorities were correct.
But there was more.
This is how I saw it: You could look at each baby as a little Buddha or Zen Master, your own private mindfulness teacher, parachuted into your life, whose presence and actions were guaranteed to push every button and challenge every belief and limit you had, giving you continual opportunities to see where you were attached to something and to let go of it. For each child it would be at least an eighteen-year retreat.
It was at that moment I walked into the next room and sat with my kids. Just like before I would read the chapter and let it permeate into my daily life. And so the retreat goes on with my two kids, my personal Buddha and Zen Master… And wow, there is no limit to what they can tell me.