Three Surprising Uses for Heart Rate Variability

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) offers insights into our heart health and stress levels. Athletes and fitness enthusiasts use it to monitor workout recovery and stress levels. But HRV goes even deeper.

Here are three surprising applications for heart rate variability monitoring.

1. Heart Rate Variability May Help With Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and Anxiety

We previously published articles about how many people use Heart Rate Variability (HRV) to guide their meditation sessions and to track progress. Controlled meditative breathing temporarily affects HRV so it serves as immediate biofeedback. In addition, improved stress management causes baseline HRV readings to improve over time.

This greatly simplifies how breath and meditation affect the heart. However, medical researchers are investigating potential clinical applications to help treat veterans Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) and to offer relief to those who suffer from anxiety.

People who suffer from PTSD typically have lower HRV than those who do not have PTSD.  Those studied also had higher likelihood of insomnia, depression, and anxiety. An additional study explored how HRV can help veterans suffering from chronic pain. Researchers concluded that biofeedback intervention (using HRV readings) helped improve baseline HRV, relieved pain and stress for the veterans. More research needs to be done to reach clinical conclusions.

2. Racehorse Trainers Use HRV

Some racehorses are high-earning elite athletes. Like human pro athletes, they have an entourage of trainers, coaches and therapists. Unlike human athletes, they can’t tell their coach when they feel pain or fatigue. Horse trainers rely on body language and any objective information they can get.

Over the years, some use baseline heart rate variability (HRV) measurements to track the horse’s recovery time and scheduled rest or active recovery days accordingly. Scientific research indicates that horses, much like humans, HRV readings vary day to day in response to illness, workouts, and emotional stress.

Recent research explored how monitoring HRV in unborn foals might predict their health and development.

“HRV examination is a reliable and noninvasive form of checking the health status of fetuses, especially in advanced pregnancies in horses (and in other farm animals, too),” said researcher Baska-Vincze. “Future pregnancy management should be noninvasive, reliable and accessible for everyone.”

3. Monitoring Heart Rate Variability May Help Premature Infants

Penn State scientists researched the possibility of whether measuring and tracking a premature infant’s HRV might help identify which infants risk developing necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) which is a serious and potentially fatal inflammatory condition. According to the researchers, this condition develops as many as 10% of premature infants.

They studies 70 infants. The 9 who developed NEC displayed decreased HRV readings which suggests diminished parasympathetic nervous system activity. Half of the infants who showed lower HRV developed NEC. On the other hand, only 2% of the infants with higher HRV readings developed the condition.  

“Since NEC progresses so rapidly and the symptoms develop suddenly, a non-invasive biomarker that allows early detection of patients at risk is required as a matter of urgency.” said Penn State researcher Kim Doheny who is the director of clinical research in newborn medicine and an assistant professor of pediatrics.

You don’t need a research lab or medical grade equipment to benefit from HRV tracking in your own life. An HRV-enabled wearable device like the Biostrap makes it easy to conveniently track your baseline HRV.

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