Previously, I wrote how the continuous HRV monitor by Lief Therapeutics has been a game changer for me to improve my HRV (read my previous articles here, here and here). But what are these game-changing actions that the continuous HRV monitoring helped me to take?
Though I find very helpful the vibration-based biofeedback, this is not why I consider the device a game-changer. Don’t get me wrong – deep breathing is one of the best ways to have an immediate positive impact on the HRV, and a frequent deep breathing will likely increase your average daytime HRV by making the score higher while you are making a conscious effort. Nevertheless, to my frustration, breathing exercises did not make better my nighttime HRV nor daytime baseline HRV when I’m not actively trying to improve my HRV.
Many other strategies resulted in only temporary HRV improvements without changing my baseline HRV. They include: Apollo Neuro, Neuvana, sniffing grapefruit essential oil (a study showed that sniffing certain fragrance such as grapefruit essential oil improves HRV), and vagus nerve exercises, like in the book “Accessing the Healing Power of Vagus Nerve”.
Cold exposure: In my previous post, I reported an incredible effect of a whole-body cold exposure to increase HRV. While I still consider it a very potent way to improve HRV instantly and highly recommend it as a great temporary HRV hack, I have not seen a strong evidence for myself that the improvement gets converted into a permanent increase of the baseline HRV.
Supplements such as a high dose of omega 3 and Parasym Plus (a proprietary mixture that targets at the parasympathetic nervous system) had no impact on my HRV, neither baseline nor temporary. (Omega 3: I have been taking it for years and merely increased the dose from 3 g of DHA & EPA daily to 4 g to see if it improves my HRV, which it didn’t. If you are not taking DHA/EPA at all, the effect might differ. )
Additionally, I tried a nasal oxytocin spray (24 IU) twice daily but experienced no HRV improvement whatsoever.
What puzzled me the most was that my HRV seemed to have very little to do with how I subjectively felt about my stress level. How, at the end of a very easy stress-free day, could I routinely see my HRV a low teen? Also, why was my HRV dropping precipitously whenever I was standing? In both situations, I was not experiencing any stimulus that would particularly stimulate my sympathetic nervous system. After countless days of staring at my Lief, I got an idea; Could it be a suboptimal cardiovascular system causing the low HRV, not an overactive sympathetic nervous system? Because my heart rate was elevated in both above situations, as if my heart had to work extra hard to keep me going late in a day or while on a standing position, it seemed worth exploring above hypothesis. So, I decided to reintroduce vigorous endurance trainings, which used to be a big part of my training regime bur during the recent years had become increasing less.
Over 10 years ago, I injured my legs and had to go on crutches for a few months. Afterwards, I stopped running, an activity I previously used to do 3-4 times a week. As I continued lifting weights and walking regularly, I somehow assumed that it shouldn’t be a big deal to drop running. This significantly reduced the amount of endurance exercise that would get me out of breath, and especially during the past few years, when I no longer participated in gym classes like spinning, the amount of peak-zone endurance trainings had become almost non-existent.
In a hindsight, this must have significantly affected not only my cardiovascular fitness level but also HRV; After re-introducing running into my daily regime, my resting heart rate started to drop in a matter of just a few days. I was even more pleased that, as my RHR dropped, my HRV started to go up and UP! And both kept improving dramatically. After three months of reintroducing vigorous endurance exercises 4-6 times / week, my HR while sleeping dropped from 66 to 59 bpm, and my average nighttime HRV from an upper teen to lower 30s.
Previously, my HRV at night could routinely drop to a low teen, and I was giving myself a high-five on occasions the number was in low 20s. Now, a mid-20 nighttime HRV may make me a sigh with a disappointment, as this has become my new lowest HRV range. After a restful night, my average nighttime HRV can easily be in the 30s now.
There are multiple studies that show the positive impacts of endurance exercises on vagus nerve tone i.e. HRV ,  . But initially, I was solely focused on finding the reasons for my chronically low HRV in stress and overactivated sympathetic nervous system, overlooking exercise.
Obviously, if your cardiovascular fitness is already optimized, adding more cardio-conditioning exercise is not likely going to improve your HRV. But if you find yourself in a similar situation like mine, the strategy might be worth considering. Please don’t start a high-impact exercise without speaking to your doctor first. Other than the low HRV, I consider myself healthy and also prior to resuming running, monitored my blood pressure and ECG daily with Withing Blood Pressure Cuff to ensure that I had no issue with half-an-hour of vigorous exercise.
Through the experience, I was once again reminded of the importance of self quantification, whether it is the effects of diet through regular blood marker testing or our estimated biological aging through test like GlycanAge. A continuous HRV monitoring can provide eye-opening insights that makes possible a personalized plan for optimizing your HRV. By making me realize how detrimental it was for me not to practice any vigorous endurance exercises, Lief truly made a lasting impact on my health even beyond HRV.
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