Heart rate variability (HRV) is one of the best ways to measure your health and performance.
HRV measures the distance between your heartbeats. Your heart doesn’t beat in perfect rhythm; your nervous system constantly changes the length of time between your heartbeats in response to your environment. You want that change to happen — it’s a sign that your nervous system is rested and alert, and that you’re adapting well to the changing world around you, moment by moment (you can find an in-depth description of HRV here).
The higher your HRV (the more variability you have between heartbeats), the more your nervous system is in tune with your environment, and the better you’ll perform. A lot of things affect your HRV, with stress as the most common factor.
Increasing your HRV can help you recover faster from both mental and physical exertion. It can help you destress, feel better, focus more clearly, and become more emotionally stable. There’s also a strong correlation between HRV and longevity, with high HRV accurately predicting a longer life.
There are several different ways you can increase your HRV. This article will cover eight of them.
First, though, it’s important to know your baseline HRV, and to track changes in HRV to figure out which habits and tools increase it. Biostrap is the most accurate HRV tracker on the market. It shows you your HRV in real time, delivers easy-to-interpret results straight to your phone, and even makes suggestions to increase your HRV (it also measures a variety of other biometrics, like sleep quality, muscle activation, and recovery).
Once you’ve started tracking your baseline HRV, try out the techniques in this article and see how your HRV changes. You don’t have to do all eight; pick and choose, see which ones produce measurable results, and incorporate a couple of them into your daily routine. You’ll feel the difference in your performance and quality of life.
Table of Contents:
8 Ways to increase HRV
- Spend time with friends
- Listen to music
- Recover faster with PEMF
- Meditate (even if it’s for 5 minutes)
- Do HRV biofeedback
- Use aromatherapy
- Take a magnesium supplement
- Upgrade your sleep
Track your progress with biostrap
1. Spend time with friends
Social interaction can go one of two ways when it comes to influencing HRV. Research suggests that spending time with close friends and other people who put you at ease will increase your HRV, while spending time with people who stress you out, intimidate you, or irritate you will decrease your HRV.
In fact, social psychologists use HRV to measure the synchrony of social interactions; people who are getting along well will begin to synchronize their behaviors, speech patterns, brain waves, and emotions. HRV is a way to track physiological synchronization with a friend; it tells you how well you get along with those around you.
Spending time with friends and loved ones is a great way to increase your HRV. Try to surround yourself with people who put you in a good mood and whose company feels natural to you. Your heart rate variability will be consistently higher as a result.
2. Listen to music
Music has a fascinating and profound effect on your nervous system. Good music lights up your brain’s reward centers, sometimes strongly enough to make you shiver. Music relieves depression and anxiety. It may even improve your immune function.
Music is also one of the simplest ways to increase your HRV.
- Athletes who listen to music daily have higher HRV scores and are less stressed before competition.
- Live music increases HRV in healthy adults.
- Classical music promotes relaxation and decreases sympathetic nervous system activation, both of which are markers of increased HRV.
Music is a reliable (and free) way to increase your HRV. Calming music tells your nervous system to relax and can help you destress and recover. If you want to get fancy, you can try listening to binaural beats, a specific type of therapeutic music that plays different frequencies into each of your ears. Binaural beats have a particular impact on your brain and may increase HRV more than normal music does.
On the other hand, aggressive or jarring music can have the opposite effect. Heavy metal, for example, decreases HRV and increases markers of stress. So if you’re looking to give your nervous system a break, choose something mellow.
3. Recover faster with PEMF
Pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy sends short pulses of electromagnetic energy through your body using a magnetic coil.
PEMF is sort of like a massage for your cells. As electromagnetic pulses move through your tissue, they cause your cells to contract and release. This gentle stress triggers repair and growth mechanisms that benefit you in a few different ways:
- PEMF is FDA-approved to heal bone fractures
- It relieves depression, including treatment-resistant depression
- PEMF encourages muscle repair and decreases inflammation, helping you recover faster from exercise
PEMF is also good for mental recovery after an intense workout. Exercise fatigues your muscles, but it also fatigues your nervous system. The mental stress of a workout causes your HRV to drop for a couple hours after physical exertion. If you’ve ever felt mentally exhausted and unable to focus post-training, you’ve experienced exercise-induced nervous system fatigue.
Usually it takes a while for your HRV to return to baseline post-exercise, especially if your workout was strenuous. A post-workout PEMF session speeds up your HRV recovery significantly, helping you bounce back faster from your workout.
4. Meditate (even if it’s for 5 minutes)
Meditation is one of the simplest ways to increase your HRV. People with anxiety who did mindfulness meditation for a few minutes saw a reliable increase in HRV that lasted throughout the day.
Add a few minutes of meditation to your daily routine. A good place to start is simply sitting quietly for 5 minutes, closing your eyes, and putting your attention on the flow of your breath. If you want more structure, you can also download a guided meditation app like Brain.fm or Headspace.
5. Do HRV biofeedback
Biofeedback involves tracking an aspect of your biology in real time, then learning how to consciously change it.
For example, if you have a real-time reading of your HRV, you can start trying different strategies to manipulate it (like meditation) and see how your HRV score changes.
Over time, HRV biofeedback gives you more conscious control over your HRV, and eventually you’ll be able to increase it at will.
Biostrap is perfect for biofeedback because it shows you, moment by moment, how you’re influencing your HRV. You can try several different biofeedback techniques and see which one works for you. Options include:
- Thinking positive thoughts
- Deep, slow breathing
- Focusing on your heartbeat
Give biofeedback a try and find a method that works for you. With practice, you can learn how to control your HRV in real time.
6. Use aromatherapy
Aromatherapy can increase your HRV, too. Stressed out elementary school teachers showed a significant increase in HRV after inhaling bergamot essential oil from a diffuser for two 10-minute sessions. Other research has found that lavender essential oil aromatherapy also increases HRV.
If you want to increase your HRV, particularly during stressful times, try diffusing bergamot or lavender essential oil (or a mix of the two) with a steam diffuser for at least 10 minutes. It will physiologically shift you toward relaxation and focus. For even more of an effect, combine aromatherapy with laid back music.
7. Take a magnesium supplement
Stressed people who took 400 milligrams of magnesium daily saw an increase in all the major parameters of HRV, as well as relief from symptoms of stress like restlessness, irritability, trouble focusing, and even depression.
8. Upgrade your sleep
Sleep is one of the pillars of a healthy life, and deep sleep is one of the most effective ways to increase your HRV.
HRV is an excellent measure of sleep quality — high HRV overnight means you’re spending a lot of time in stage 3 and stage 4 sleep, the two deepest, most restorative phases of sleep. Conversely, getting into deep sleep is an excellent way to increase your HRV. On top of that, deep sleep enhances your mood, focus, muscle gain, fat loss, hormonal balance, resilience to stress, and more.
Here are three simple ways to improve your sleep quality, starting tonight:
- Take magnesium. You read above that magnesium increases HRV on its own, but it also improves sleep quality, makes it easier to fall asleep, and decreases the number of times you wake up during the night, all of which will increase your HRV even more. Take 400 mg of magnesium citrate or magnesium glycinate half an hour before you go to bed.
- Get rid of blue light at night. Blue light inhibits melatonin, a hormone you make that helps you fall asleep and stay asleep. Getting rid of blue light at night will increase your sleep quality immediately. If you work late, download f.lux on your computer; it’s a free software that syncs with the sun and filters out blue-spectrum light as soon as the sun sets. It’ll also decrease eye strain. You can do the same on your phone by setting it to night mode. You can also get a pair of blue light-blocking glasses and wear them for a couple hours before bed.
- Black out your room. Even a small amount of light in your room at night will hurt your sleep quality. Invest in a set of blackout curtains for your windows, or put up shades, cardboard, or something else that will block all light from coming in. Cover up any electronic light sources (WiFi routers, smoke alarms, etc) with electrical tape. Your goal is to get your room dark enough that you can’t see your hand in front of your face. Blacking out your room makes a huge difference in how well you sleep. You’ll be surprised by how much more rested you feel in the morning.
Track your progress with Biostrap
Biostrap gives you invaluable insight into how your biology is doing. You can use it to measure your HRV, figure out which HRV-boosting techniques work best for you, and track your improvements over time. Use your Biostrap and these eight tools to improve your performance and enjoy the benefits of high heart rate variability. Thanks for reading and happy biohacking!