HRV: A Quick Guide


HRV: Heart Rate Variability


HRV is the variation in time between consecutive heartbeats, controlled by our autonomic nervous system. We frequently discuss the two halves of the autonomic nervous system on our blog—sympathetic and parasympathetic—as both are influenced by how you breathe. Our parasympathetic nervous system is activated while we’re at rest. It supports regeneration, relaxation, and healing, and tells our heart to beat slower. Our sympathetic nervous system is activated during intense exercise and stress, and controls our fight-or-flight response, in turn telling our heart to beat faster. Our HRV is determined by these two halves of our nervous system sending differing signals to our heart. When both halves of the nervous system are balanced, we see greater fluctuation in heart rate—in other words, a higher heart rate variability.


Because HRV is a function of our autonomic nervous system, it can also help show us where our nervous system may be balanced or imbalanced. In other words, HRV is an indicator of overall physical health, and can also point to the state of your mental and emotional health.

Low HRV is associated with increased anxiety and depression, and an overstimulated sympathetic nervous system. If you’re under stress, or in a fight-or-flight response, the variability between heartbeats is likely to be low. 

High HRV, on the other hand, is often an indicator of physical fitness, cardiovascular health, and can also point to healthy nervous system balance. When your nervous system is nimble, it’s able to direct your heart to beat faster or slower according to external stimulus.


The simplest way to boost HRV is through regular physical exertion. Keeping your body balanced through proper nutrition is also vital to healthy HRV, particularly when you focus on fueling your body in steady intervals (ie, not eating at times that are unexpected for your body). Consistent hydration and avoiding alcohol also help improve HRV.

Sleep also plays a big role. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule in accordance with your circadian rhythm has a positive effect on the nervous system, and in turn helps keep your heart healthy. Mindful breathing has also been shown to have a positive effect.


When you breathe consistently through your nose, you activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which tells your heart to beat slower. When you exercise, you activate your sympathetic nervous system, which tells your heart to beat faster. Breathing through your nose while exercising keeps both branches of your nervous system engaged—and helps you exercise more efficiently—in turn boosting your HRV.