Doctors since 1965 have used Heart Rate Variability (HRV) as a diagnostic metric in determining fetal distress. (1) More recently, it has been discovered that the same metric can be applied to adults in a myriad of ways.
Simply put, it is the variation in time between two consecutive heartbeats. Illustrated above is a PPG signal for four consecutive heartbeats. The differences in the time duration of the peaks between successive heartbeats help us to calculate HRV.
Studies suggest that high heart rate variability indicates good health and high fitness levels. On the other hand, low heart rate variability indicates burnout or a stressful lifestyle. Moreover, HRV and age have an inverse relationship. Aging reduces the deviation from the baseline and hence leads to a decreased HRV.
Lower heart rate variability can be an indication of multitude of problems like hypertension, diabetes, obesity and other cardiovascular problems.
HRV is a diagnostic tool for determining cardiovascular diseases and arrhythmias (a condition of abnormal heart rate), sudden cardiac arrest, etc. Sudden cardiac arrest is one of the biggest causes of natural deaths in the U.S. There are about 325,000 adult deaths in the U.S. every year and it contributes to 50% of all heart disease deaths. (2)
Chronic stress can have a severe impact on overall health and performance and it can be easily seen in HRV data. It is important to restore balance in such situations for a healthy lifestyle.
Athletes use HRV to evaluate their performance because physical activity has a direct impact on heart rate variability. It has also been a useful tool to determine if over-training is having a negative impact on athletes’ performance and to gauge performance during endurance training programs.
Monitoring heart rate variability provides us with detailed insights on body’s strength and fatigue or stress levels.
HRV is used by clinical centers, academicians, scientists and doctors around the world. They are:
01. Hon EH, Lee ST. Electronic evaluations of the fetal heart rate patterns preceding fetal death, further observations. Am J Obstet Gynae 1965; 87:814–26
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