4 Ways I Increased My Heart Rate Variability
Updated: Oct 21
After reviewing my trend views through WHOOP, the past couple of months, I have noticed an uptrend in my Heart Rate Variability (Up 9% in July compared to June).
There are a few lifestyle and behavior changes that I’ve incorporated in my daily regimen the past couple of months. I believe some of these changes have had a big impact in improving my HRV scores. But first, what is HRV?
According to WHOOP, HRV refers to the variance of time between heartbeats. HRV is determined by inputs from your parasympathetic (digest, relax, and rest) and sympathetic nervous system (activate, fight or flight).
The sympathetic nervous system is activated through a variety of stressors such as physical exertion, stress, and causes your heart to beat faster.
The parasympathetic nervous system responds to inputs from within such as digestion and cellular repair to help conserve energy and bring the body to a state of restoration. It causes the heart rate to slow down.
A high HRV is a good indicator that your body can adapt to changes and respond to both sides of your autonomic nervous system. It is balanced and a sign that your body is ready to perform.
A low HRV indicates that one side of the nervous system is dominating the other. It can be complicated figuring out what might be causing a low HRV. It could be stress, fatigue, or illness.
It’s important to note that HRV shouldn’t be compared with others, as it’s specific to you. Compare it to your own baseline score and see if there are changes you can make to improve.
Here are 4 changes that has improved my HRV:
1. Consistent Sleep Times
Sticking with a regular sleep schedule has been a game changer for me in how I feel throughout each day. I try to stay within a 30-minute window every night. For me, that’s getting into bed by 9:30pm and falling asleep by 10pm give or take 30 minutes. Even on the weekends, I try to go to bed and wake up at the same time, as this is when I feel the best. I’ve noticed if I stay up late one night on the weekend and still get the same amount of sleep as usual, I’ll feel tired the whole day.
My focus on sleep consistency isn’t a recent change. It’s been something I’ve been fine tuning for a few years now, but I think it’s key in improving HRV. Going to bed at the same time every night has also helped me fall asleep quicker and wake up without an alarm.
This may seem like an obvious solution to improve your HRV, but avoiding alcohol might have one of the biggest impacts to your number. See my previous post on How Alcohol Affects Sleep.
When I drink, my HRV score almost always decreases by 20 or more points the next day. If I drink during the day and have time to re-hydrate versus drinking closer to bedtime, I haven’t noticed a big change in HRV, but there’s still a slight decrease.
I’m not perfect and indulge socially on occasion. One of my favorite things to do with my fiancé on the weekend, is go to a brewery, have a couple drinks, and brainstorm life. However, the past couple of months I’ve limited my consumption to one day during the week if I do drink. However, if you want to improve your score, it’s best to avoid alcohol entirely.
3. Food & Nutrition
There are two variables that I believe have helped improve my HRV: Dinner timing and a more balanced diet. Back in June, I began receiving organic farm fresh produce through a local CSA. A CSA is where you can purchase a subscription with your local farmer prior to the growing season in exchange for a box of fresh seasonal produce. It’s a great way to support your local farmer, have a direct connection with them, access to high quality produce, and it’s often cheaper than buying vegetables at the grocery store.
Since starting the CSA, my plate is filled with more color and vegetables. Coincidently, my average HRV has increased since June, and an improved diet might have some correlation to the higher number.
The other variable related to food is dinner timing. If I eat too close to bedtime, I always have digestion issues that will cause me to wake up in the middle of the night. What works best for me is eating 3 to 4 hours prior to going to bed. I’ll also try and stop drinking fluids about 2 hours prior. Eliminating any potential sleep disruptors helps me get quality restorative sleep.
Since June, I’ve tried increasing my number of activities per week, intensity, duration, and giving myself the proper amount of recovery. My main physical activity is cycling, and I aim for 4 rides a week up from 2 to 3 in previous months. Sundays are usually saved for my longer rides.
For training, I’ve never focused heavily on a workout schedule. As I’ve started to pay closer attention to my WHOOP recoveries, I now modify the quantity, intensity and duration of workouts based on this number.
If I have a low recovery score, I’ll tend to find a light activity and treat it as a rest day. If I have a higher score, I know my body is ready to perform and I’ll have a more intense and longer workout. Doing so has helped me avoid overdoing it, leading to smarter training, and consistent green recoveries recorded from WHOOP. This has also contributed to increasing my average HRV.
What changes have you made that’s helped improve your personal HRV number?