With the understanding that decreased heart rate variability is distinctly associated with impaired ANS function and poor health, it becomes clear that creating a physiological environment that increases HRV is imperative for maintaining and building health. How can HRV be increased? It can be accomplished in a variety of practical ways, with the only prerequisite being that each individual recognizes their ability to take control of their health, and then acts on it.
Increased HRV can be achieved through:
Frankly, “stress management” is the goal of anybody trying to achieve health (whether it’s spoken or unspoken) because “health” is a function the body being able to “manage stress” and maintain homeostasis. In this example, however, stress management refers to clients getting in touch with their heart, defining their dreams and living to make those dreams a reality. This paper discusses the significance of ANS function in HRV, but an important point to consider is that the heart does have “a mind of its own” (in the form of cardio-afferent nerves) that senses emotional status and communicates with the limbic brain center (medulla) that controls the ANS (Rubik, 2008). Put simply, if the heart is burdened, the ANS is burdened, and the risk of poor health increases. Making a concerted effort to remove “toxic” energy & actions from ones life, while living to fulfill the heart’s deepest desires is the surest way to reduce stress, re-create an adaptive, resilient ANS and build health.
Reconnecting with nature
In Making Waves, Roger Lewin, on behalf of Irving Dardik, this theory behind society’s current bout with chronic disease:
“Stress is just a different way of expressing something more fundamental; namely, that the life so many of us lead has torn us from the natural rhythms that are so much part of our being as Homo sapiens. We get up with the alarm clock, eat on the run, live under artificial lighting; air-conditioning turns summer into spring; central heating makes winter into summer. Quite simply, we have become disconnected from the kind of creature that evolution shaped us into being. With our natural rhythms and cycles disrupted or, more preciesly, flattened, because much of what we do squashes them, chronic disease is the inexorable outcome . . . chronic diseases are a manifestation of a person’s bodily chemistry and physiology being somehow out of balance . . Chronic diseases are diseases of civilization” (p. 32).
Taking the time to reconnect with the flow of nature’s waves – letting that “flow” interact with and become “one” with the body – can have a profound effect on re-establishing heart wave variability.
A high quality nutritional regimen increases HRV through two key components: it reduces toxic burden while providing the essential nutrients for optimal structure and physiological function (Dixon, 2010). Quite simply, eliminating toxins (ex. alcohol, caffeine, refined sugars, processed food products and associated synthetic additives/preservatives) from the body reduces stress on the body while also enabling it to function more efficiently; quality food, which can be specifically prescribed according to individual needs, strengthens the weak links in the ANS and creates an internal environment that helps the body reestablish balance and heal itself intuitively (2010).
Traditional exercise protocols suggest prolonged, intense bouts of training as the standard for achieving everything from competitive advantage to fat loss. For individuals with a hyperactive sympathetic nervous system and a muted parasympathetic (read: decreased HRV), traditional exercise further stimulates the sympathetic branch of the ANS, creating more imbalance and rendering the exercise less effective, if not harmful. As such, an exercise regimen that stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and trains recovery needs to be utilized — a premise substantiated by Goldsmith et al (2002), when they specifically trained the recovery phase of exercise and found that the protocol increased peak VO2, improved peak HR, decreased blood pressure and increased HRV (p. 138). As far as choosing specific exercise modalities to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, cyclic exercise protocols (combining short bouts of exertion with bouts of cardiovascular recovery) (p. 136), qi gong, tai chi, mediation and focused breathing work (Rubik, 2008) have all demonstrated the ability to positively impact the ANS and increase heart rate variability.
In summary, effective stress management, reconnecting with nature, and individualized nutrition and exercise programs will create an environment that supports health, increases HRV . . . and helps to maximize your opportunity to live life vibrantly.
Dixon, S. (2010). The HealthExcel system of metabolic typing: Course material, levels 1&2.
Goldsmith, RL, Dardik, I, Bloomfield, DM, Hagberg, S, Reisman, S, Benson, H, . . ., Goldberger, AL. (2002). Implementation of a novel cyclic exercise protocol in healthy women. Am J Med Sports, 4, 135-141, 151.
Lewin, R. (2005). Making waves: Irving Dardik and his superwave principle. United States of America. Rodale, Inc. Rubik, B. (2008, November).
Heart rate variability: a new vital sign. Wise Traditions 2008, 9thAnnual Conference of the Weston A. Price Foundation. Lecture conducted from Burlingame, California. MP3.
Copyright ©2013 Christopher Warden