Last week we talked about how you can use Heart Rate Variability to determine your overall health status! But how do you actually measure it? And what is a “Good” HRV score?
Heart Rate Variability or HRV for short is a measure of the change in the length of time between your heart beats, and you can use it to determine how well your heart and nervous system are working. But how do you actually go about testing and what is “normal”?
There are 2 things that you need to measure your HRV.
First is a heart rate monitor. I personally use and recommend the Polar H7 bluetooth chest strap. This device and other chest strap devices have been shown to be the most accurate at measuring your heart rate aside from an ECG machine you would use in an office setting. Most wrist strap heart rate monitors use light to measure your pulse vs a chest strap which is going to be using electrodes to directly measure the electrical activity of your heart giving you a more accurate reading.
Now that you have your trusted heart rate monitor you need software to actually calculate your heart rate variability.
The app that I have been using for years is called Elite HRV. They have an easy to use program that not only gives you a “readiness score” but also provides the raw data so you can really determine how your overall nervous system is working. I’ll add a snapshot of my own data that I have been tracking daily for the last week. There are other apps out there to measure HRV and I’m sure many of them are good this is just what I have personally used so this is what I can safely recommend to you. Which is something that I will always do.
Now that you are ready to measure; you need to understand something.
Your HRV is going to change throughout the day, and also changes depending on the length of time that you measure for.
I highly recommend that if you are going to test your HRV you need to measure for a minimum of 5 minutes and do it at the same type of day in the same setting so as to remove as many variables as possible.
I personally test it right when I wake up.
I put the monitor on and lay there for 5 minutes before starting my day. You don’t need to be perfect, but don’t try to compare a 2 min measurement in the morning to a 10 min measurement right after you work out.
The next question is what is a good score? Everyone wants to get an A on their exam so what would be a high HRV score meaning that your heart and nervous system are working well?
Now here’s where things get technical. I did a TON of research to determine these values and I don’t mean reading the top links on google. I mean literally reading dozens of scientific studies and checking their references to figure out what is a “Normal” and “Good” HRV score.
There are a couple numbers that you can look at to determine how you are doing. The easiest is the “readiness score” that the elite HRV app provides. They require a couple measurements on consecutive days before they will provide this data because they need to see your baseline. Once available you can use this score to determine how well your overall autonomic nervous system is looking which can be a reflection of how you are doing with your recovery, if you are overstressed, or overtraining.
From the Elite HRV website they state that the average HRV score on their platform is about 59. My own measurements are generally in the low 70s which is great because this means that my aerobic fitness is high, my autonomic nervous system is robust, and I am getting adequate recovery!
Looking deeper into the data you can see what’s called your rMSSD. This is a statistical calculation that is gathered from the differences in your beat to beat time measurements. The higher the score the stronger your nervous system and the higher your HRV.
One study looked at healthy subjects throughout the decades to see the relation between age and their HRV scores. You can see in the second column their rMSSD measurements. This shows that numbers in the 40s-50s would be considered good in young healthy individuals.
From the Elite HRV website you can see the rMSSD values they have gathered also broken down by age but also by gender.
Here you can see that the numbers are higher. This is probably a reflection of the population that is using the Elite HRV app vs the general population. Their data shows numbers as high as the mid-80s for young healthy males. In both data sets, you do see that the HRV measurement decreases with age.
Here you can see my own measurements that I took in the morning right before I got out of bed. As you can see my rMSSD is much higher than what was seen in this study of “healthy subjects” Which is awesome!
Other studies looking at athletes specifically had higher rMSSD numbers reported between 40-112. This is to be expected as athletes should be more cardiovascularly fit, have strong nervous systems, and be prioritizing their recovery and nutrition.
The last thing you want to look at is your total power.
The stronger your autonomic nervous system and the better it is able to regulate your heart (something that is indicative of health) the higher your Total Power will be. Total power is made up of your LF and HF scores.
In my own data you can see that my total power is 16,888 ms2. My LF is 13,000 ms2 and my HF is 3,800 ms2.
LfF is a reflection of what’s called the cardiovagal baroreflex sensitivity. (Say that 10 times fast)
This is a technical way of saying that my autonomic nervous system is good at controlling my heart rate. Which is something that is high in healthy people and low in sick individuals.
My HF which correlates to my parasympathetic nervous system, think rest and digest, is also very high. Overall my autonomic nervous system is extremely strong and comparable to the highest levels that I have seen documented in the scientific literature. Again something that I am extremely happy about 🙂
Now that you have some idea of what a “good” HRV score is I must point out that people are different. We all have different biochemistry. A good HRV score for you might be way higher or way lower than mine.
What is important is that you determine where you are at. Gather some data. Check your HRV in the morning every day for a week and get a good solid number. Then see how certain things like poor sleep, hard exercise, staying out drinking, eating poorly, etc. will have on your personal HRV score.
HRV is a tool that can give you objective data on how your overall cardiovascular and nervous system are doing. Try it out and let me know what your scores are!
If you have any questions let me know in the comments below. Make sure that you subscribe because next week we are going to be talking more specifically on what you can do to improve your Heart Rate Variability!
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