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HRV & Your Self-Control

Heart rate variability (HRV) is the physiological phenomenon of variation in the time interval between heartbeats. It is measured by the variation in the beat-to-beat interval.

– Wikipedia

No; I’m not a doctor. I’m sure you’re wondering what the heck HRV is, and what it has to do with self-control.

As defined above, HRV is the measure of the tiny differences that occur between each heart beat. HRV has a direct influence on your ability to cope with stress and exert willpower and self-control. The higher the heart rate variability the better. The correlation between self-control and HRV was discovered by Suzanne Segerstrom, a professor of psychology at the university of Kentucky. When I first heard of this, I was ecstatic, there really is a physiologically way to measure self-control and maybe improve it.

One common misconception is that heart rate variability is the same as heart rate; it isn’t. Heart Rate Variability actually decreases with an increase in heart rate. Think about it, when do you feel more in control, when you’re agitated and your heart is beating at a fast rate, or when you’re calm?

Several factors affect HRV such as: aerobic fitness, age, genetics, body position, and general body health. A very common threat to HRV and hence; self-control is STRESS. Once the body and mind is under stress, HRV decreases.

The obvious question now is: how do we improve our HRV. There are several activities that improve HRV, activities that activate the parasympathetic nervous system boost HRV. Some of such activities are:

  1. Meditating
  2. Taking slow deep breaths
  3. Nature exercises (Taking walks in nature)
  4. Rest (not couch-potato rest, REAL REST)
  5. Aerobic Exercises
  6. Cold Showers

There a quite a number of amazing benefits of improved Heart Rate Variability, some of which are:

  1. Better cognitive and memory performance
  2. Reduced cortisol levels; which implies:
    1. Better blood sugar balance
    2. Better immune system
    3. Better Fertility
  3. Reduced high blood pressure
  4. Better self-control and willpower
  5. Stable mood
  6. Improved physical strength and endurance
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