Everything you need to know about HRV and how you can improve it

May 3rd, 2022,

5 min read

Everything you need to know about HRV and how you can improve itfeatured image

Science is at the heart of what we do at moonbird. This is why we’ve created the world’s first handheld physical breath pacer that guides your breathing intuitively whilst providing biofeedback.

Moonbird’s method is based on the science of balancing the autonomic nervous system through slow breathing and biofeedback. This might sound a bit technical, so let us break that down for you.

The autonomic nervous system

The autonomic nervous system is the control system of your body that acts largely unconsciously and regulates bodily functions, such as the heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, pupillary response, urination, and sexual arousal. It consists of two branches: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.

The sympathetic nervous system, which can be seen as the body’s gas pedal, prepares your body for action, a ‘fight or flight’ response to protect you against possible predators and other threats. When the sympathetic nervous system recognizes a threat — a lion attacking you, cars racing by, or even a full inbox — your blood pressure and heart rate go up, and your breathing accelerates.

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The parasympathetic nervous system on the other hand is the body’s brake pedal. It’s activated when you feel safe enough to relax, sleep, digest your food, or connect with others. In this ‘rest-and-digest’ mode, your blood pressure decreases, your breathing slows and there is room for creativity. Ideally, the brake and the gas keep each other in balance.

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Heart rate variability

The balance between the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system is reflected in your heart rate. A typical heart doesn’t beat consistently, like a metronome. Instead, it beats irregularly because it’s controlled by both the gas and the brake pedal, making your heartbeat rise and fall.

The variation between consecutive heartbeats, your ‘heart rate variability’ (HRV), indicates whether the pedals are in balance. If the balance between your brake and gas is off and one of the two dominates, your HRV is low. You experience trouble coping with stress and recovering from it. A high HRV means that you are balanced, resilient, and can quickly adapt to and recover from stress. It makes you calm, focused and improves your performance and sleep.

The impact of slow breathing on HRV

For many people living in today’s hectic world, the gas pedal is almost constantly activated, resulting in a low HRV. Thankfully, you can learn to control your brake pedal, via a simple tool you always have with you: your breathing.

Controlled breathing at a pace slower than spontaneous breathing serves as your nervous system’s remote control. Slow breathing triggers the body’s natural relaxation response, and when practiced over time, increases your HRV. Scientists found that when slowing down your breathing to around five to seven breaths per minute, the perfect balance is established and your HRV is at its max.

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How breathing with moonbird improves HRV

Moonbird has a double action. First, it intuitively guides you to breathe slowly by providing tactile feedback in your hand: breathe in when moonbird expands, breathe out when it contracts. Second, moonbird measures biosignals like your heart rate and HRV (‘bio’) so you can directly see the impact of the breathing exercises on your body and whether you are doing them correctly (‘feedback’).

This biofeedback is provided via the moonbird app. Watch your heart rate fluctuate in sync with your breathing: increasing with each inhale, and decreasing with each exhale. This will maximize the variation between heartbeats, and you can see how your heart rate variability rises over time, typically fluctuating between 0 and 20bpm, with higher being better.

When your heart rate and breathing are synced, you are breathing coherently. With practice, try to improve your coherence level from incoherent (light blue) to balanced, coherent breathing (dark blue). It is also possible to review your statistics afterward in the app.

What does your HRV score mean?

It’s good to keep track of your HRV scores in moonbird’s app, so you can see the impact of slow breathing exercises over time. However, don’t focus too much on the data. A low HRV does not necessarily mean you are doing ‘bad’. HRV depends on several factors such as age, time of day, lifestyle, and amount of practice.

It is, therefore, better to compare your results with your own baseline values, not with others. Start with some short exercises, a few times a day. From here you can build it up and start noticing your progress. Find the exercise that works best for you to improve your HRV and coherence, but also that makes you feel good.

By combining the intuitive breathing guidance with the biofeedback, moonbird helps you to connect your mind and body and calm down, or fall asleep faster. Whenever, wherever. Find out more about breathing with moonbird. P.S. Did you know that you can try moonbird for 14 days, risk-free? 🙌

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