Growing research supports Heart Rate Variability (HRV) biofeedback training to lower stress and anxiety, increase sports performance

What’s HRV? An impor­tant health met­ric every golfer should pay atten­tion to (

As ama­teur golfers, we’d love to play like the pros. There’s no doubt that you would trade your banana slice for Dustin Johnson’s pen­e­trat­ing 300-yard dri­ve down the mid­dle of the fair­way or Collin Morikawa’s impec­ca­ble ball strik­ing in a heartbeat.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, we have lim­it­ing fac­tors — be they phys­i­cal abil­i­ty, mon­ey, time or some­thing else. But that doesn’t mean we can’t adopt a few things the Tour pros do to stay in shape in our own lives.

For one, Tour play­ers, and oth­er pro­fes­sion­al ath­letes, are now track­ing their Heart Rate Vari­abil­i­ty (HRV) to help them mea­sure their recov­ery and peak at the right times on the course … If you’re unfa­mil­iar with HRV, it’s the vari­ance in time between the beats of your heart.

For exam­ple, if your heart rate is 60 beats per minute, that doesn’t actu­al­ly mean your heart is beat­ing once every sec­ond. Dur­ing that one minute span, there may be 0.9 sec­onds between two beats and 1.2 sec­onds between two oth­er beats. The larg­er this vari­abil­i­ty is, the more like­ly your body is to be recov­ered and ready to per­form at a high lev­el on the course.

This is because HRV is a result of your parasym­pa­thet­ic (deac­ti­vat­ing) ner­vous sys­tem and sym­pa­thet­ic (acti­vat­ing) ner­vous sys­tem simul­ta­ne­ous­ly send­ing sig­nals to your heart.

Recent studies on Heart Rate Variability (HRV), Health and Sports Performance:

Heart Rate Vari­abil­i­ty: An Old Met­ric with New Mean­ing in the Era of using mHealth Tech­nolo­gies for Health and Exer­cise Train­ing Guid­ance. Part One: Phys­i­ol­o­gy and Meth­ods (Arrhyth­mia & Elec­tro­phys­i­ol­o­gy Review).

  • Abstract: The auto­nom­ic ner­vous sys­tem plays a major role in opti­mis­ing func­tion of the car­dio­vas­cu­lar (CV) sys­tem, which in turn has impor­tant impli­ca­tions for CV health. Heart rate vari­abil­i­ty (HRV) is a mea­sur­able reflec­tion of this bal­ance between sym­pa­thet­ic and parasym­pa­thet­ic tone and has been used as a mark­er for car­diac sta­tus and pre­dict­ing CV out­comes. Recent­ly, the avail­abil­i­ty of com­mer­cial­ly avail­able heart rate (HR) mon­i­tor­ing sys­tems has had impor­tant CV health impli­ca­tions and per­mits ambu­la­to­ry CV mon­i­tor­ing on a scale not achiev­able with tra­di­tion­al car­diac diag­nos­tics. The focus of the first part of this two-part review is to sum­marise the phys­i­ol­o­gy of HRV and to describe avail­able tech­nolo­gies for HRV mon­i­tor­ing. Part two will present HRV mea­sures for assess­ing CV prog­no­sis and ath­let­ic training.

Part Two: Prog­no­sis and Training

  • Abstract: It has been demon­strat­ed that heart rate vari­abil­i­ty (HRV) is pre­dic­tive of all-cause and car­dio­vas­cu­lar mor­tal­i­ty using clin­i­cal ECG record­ings. This is true for rest, exer­cise and ambu­la­to­ry HRV clin­i­cal ECG device record­ings in prospec­tive cohorts. Recent­ly, there has been a rapid increase in the use of mobile health tech­nolo­gies (mHealth) and com­mer­cial wear­able fit­ness devices. Most of these devices use ECG or pho­to-based plethys­mog­ra­phy and both are val­i­dat­ed for pro­vid­ing accu­rate heart rate mea­sure­ments. This offers the oppor­tu­ni­ty to make risk infor­ma­tion from HRV more wide­ly avail­able. The phys­i­ol­o­gy of HRV and the avail­able tech­nol­o­gy by which it can be assessed has been sum­marised in Part 1 of this review. In Part 2 the asso­ci­a­tion between HRV and risk strat­i­fi­ca­tion is addressed by review­ing the cur­rent evi­dence from data acquired by rest­ing ECG, exer­cise ECG and med­ical ambu­la­to­ry devices. This is fol­lowed by a dis­cus­sion of the use of HRV to guide the train­ing of ath­letes and as a part of fit­ness programmes.

The effect of heart rate vari­abil­i­ty biofeed­back train­ing on stress and anx­i­ety: a meta-analy­sis (Psy­cho­log­i­cal Med­i­cine). From the Abstract:

  • Back­ground: Some evi­dence sug­gests that heart rate vari­abil­i­ty (HRV) biofeed­back might be an effec­tive way to treat anx­i­ety and stress symp­toms. To exam­ine the effect of HRV biofeed­back on symp­toms of anx­i­ety and stress, we con­duct­ed a meta-analy­sis of stud­ies extract­ed from PubMed, PsycIN­FO and the Cochrane Library.
  • Con­clu­sions: HRV biofeed­back train­ing is asso­ci­at­ed with a large reduc­tion in self-report­ed stress and anx­i­ety. Although more well-con­trolled stud­ies are need­ed, this inter­ven­tion offers a promis­ing approach for treat­ing stress and anx­i­ety with wear­able devices.

Effect of Heart Rate Vari­abil­i­ty Biofeed­back on Sport Per­for­mance, a Sys­tem­at­ic Review (Applied Psy­chophys­i­ol­o­gy and Biofeedback )

  • Abstract: Aim is to deter­mine if the train­ing with heart rate vari­abil­i­ty biofeed­back allows to improve per­for­mance in ath­letes of dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines. Meth­ods such as data­base search … All stud­ies had a small sam­ple size (range from 1 to 30 par­tic­i­pants). In 85.71% of the stud­ies (n=6) the ath­letes enhanced psy­chophys­i­o­log­i­cal vari­ables that allowed them to improve their sport per­for­mance thanks to train­ing with heart rate vari­abil­i­ty biofeed­back. Despite the lim­it­ed amount of exper­i­men­tal stud­ies in the field to date, the find­ings sug­gest that heart rate vari­abil­i­ty biofeed­back is an effec­tive, safe, and easy-to-learn and apply method for both ath­letes and coach­es in order to improve sport performance.

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About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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