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what is heart rate variability?

Updated: Apr 2

and how can we use it to "read" what our body is saying?

Like many of you, I have a morning ritual. I wake up, feed the dogs, make my coffee, and sit down with my phone– not to start my social media scroll (that will come later)– but to take my heart rate variability (HRV) measurement.

HRV is a super easy way to take a look at how our bodies are handling stress. It measures the variability between heartbeats– that is, how quickly your heart rate recovers from beat to beat as it encounters stress. Remember that your system is designed to oscillate between activation and ease– you see a bear, your nervous system ramps up; you run away from the bear, and the nervous system settles again. Generally speaking, the higher your HRV, the better; we want to be able to recover quickly and shift easily from one state to another.

Your HRV is the only (practical, accessible) way that you can measure the activity of your autonomic nervous system (ANS).

In a recent post, I talked about how important it is to understand and support the nervous system. We can learn to interpret the somatic language that our body speaks; in my body, I recognize the symptoms of overwhelm and can often adjust accordingly. Sometimes I miss the signs, or choose to override them. That’s where having a digital readout of the ANS can be extra helpful as an objective measurement.

I use a super simple app called HRV4Training. It’s inexpensive, easy to use (you just put your thumb over your phone’s camera and try not to move for a minute), and it gives me some quick information about how my body’s handling stress. The app allows me to put in additional information that it takes into consideration– how sore are my muscles? How stressful is my life right now? How much did I sleep last night? Then, it makes suggestions about how intense my training session should be that day.

In this screenshot, you get an insider’s perspective into my HRV since September. You’ll