Heart Rate Variability: 5 Revealing Insights from awesome 800-day streak challenge
After 800 days straight of taking a five-minute morning heart rate variability reading, it’s time to take stock of what I have learned.
1. I discovered what stress actually is, and it was life changing.
It’s no secret that the five most stressful things in life are the death of a loved one, divorce, moving, major illness, job loss. If you look, you will even find lists of the top 10 stressors.
No matter what is causing the stress, the effects are far-reaching. An isolated stress event may not impact. However, it’s well documented that chronic stress plays havoc with digestive or reproduction systems, suppresses immune systems, increases heartattack and stroke risk, and accelerates aging.
Have you noticed that whenever we talk about stress, it is always bad!
What if I told you that not all stress is bad…..
This little discovery changed my life.
I took Elite HRV’s foundation course to find out how HRV worked. The first module on stress hit me between the eyes. I thought I understood it!
They clearly explained that stress is always present, inevitable and necessary for life.
There are actually two types of stress. We are only too familiar with the bad stress – let’s call it Distress.
But the other type of stress, the good stress, is Eustress. An athlete stresses their body every time they train. However, this stress builds performance capacity. Students apply stress when they prepare for exams, but once again, it is building capability.
Coldwater swimmers swear by stress to build resilience. Brrrr! The stress of calorie restriction is also shown to yield significant longevity benefits.
I learnt that the key to achieving these long-term benefits of performance, capability and resilience is recovery between Eustress activities. Athletes know that if they over-train, i.e. train without appropriate recovery, Eustress can swiftly turn to Distress. Injuries or illness can result.
Unfortunately, for the chronic stress sufferer, they haven’t figured out that they crossed the line a long time ago and their body is screaming for recovery!
I can now push myself physically and mentally, knowing that my HRV will remind me when it is time to recover. I then prioritise breathing, restorative yoga or take a whole rest day.
2. I learnt how to use HRV to take control of my health.
For me, it wasn’t a serious condition but a niggling frustration that kicked me into gear.
Only one irritating little issue blotted my health copybook. I couldn’t budge my white cell count from the lower end of the normal range. It was signalling a compromised immune system.
It might have been caused by the stress of my years in the corporate world, but I knew enough to know it was a problem, and I had to do something to improve it before it morphed into a potential aging disease.
I had been experimenting with health and wellness guru formulas for 20+ years, and I would get a blood test every six months only to find no difference for all the work I put in. I just didn’t know what was contributing to what.
Impatiently, I decide to take my health into my hands. I simply don’t have the time to wait for a bi-annual blood test to see if what I am doing makes a difference.
Once I completed the Elite HRV course, I immediately purchased a monitor and started tracking my HRV. I stepped into the driver’s seat and haven’t looked back?
These morning readings make the invisible visible, enabling me to take action to manage my stress much more effectively.
HRV has now become my go-to measure on a daily as well as long term basis.
3. I learnt exactly what works and what doesn’t work for me with pinpoint accuracy.
While I am up to date with all the latest health research, I feel that quite often the health gurus write about what works for them but that may not work for everyone. I had to figure out what worked for me.
Now, I can look at my spreadsheets and graphs of my data over the 800 days and see precisely what event every down spike correlates with. Either my spreadsheet notes or a scan through my photos tells me what I was doing on spike days.
Travel days are my most significant source of Distress. We travel extensively, and the long-haul flight doesn’t affect me as much as short city trips.
The thought of getting across Paris from Gare de Nord to Gare de Montparnasse on Bastille day with limited time to spare causes immense stress for me. Who booked this date? I am never sure whether it is the travel or the worry I do for both my laid-back husband and me that is the main contributor.
Getting from my daughter’s home to Heathrow for a flight is also nerve-wracking. One accident on the motorway and you can miss the flight – now solved by booking an airport hotel for the pre-flight night!
I also know that ONE glass of wine causes a spike. I tested it by taking an HRV reading every half hour starting before I had a drink until bedtime. I still like a glass of wine with a meal, but I now save it for special occasions.
The most revealing data comes from trend analysis. For the first six months of measuring HRV, I meditated using Holosync technology from Centerpointe. Holosync meditation is based on sound scientific principles, and millions of users getting great results.
“When I found out how Holosync affects HRV, I almost fell off my chair!”
~ Bill Harris – Founder Centerpointe
My results were significant. In 6 months, I completely reversed my sympathetic dominance, and a parasympathetic dominance has prevailed ever since.
I love to practice Yin Yoga. Holding the poses for some time drains stress from my body. Sometimes, I find it more effective than meditation.
I have also experimented with supplements. Melatonin seems to be the most significant for me. When I stop for some time because I have run out or I am in a country where I cannot get it, I notice a considerable drop in HRV trend. Similarly, CoQ10 and PQQ noticeably boost my HRV score.
I am about to start an experiment with NMN (see Lifespan publication), and I will document the results from that.
4. I learnt to be creative in overcoming the challenges of keeping a streak and to stop worrying about what people think of me when I streak!
Even though I have always been a tracker, I have never accumulated a streak like my HRV 800 days. It feels like I have finally cracked the ‘consistency’ thing. Also, I found out that when you get a good streak going, commitment kicks in big time. You are not going to let go of those numbers without a pretty good reason. And that inevitably leads to some pretty amazing results.
As Tony Robbins says: ‘We overestimate what we can achieve in a day and underestimate what we can achieve in a year.’
But there’s been some challenges…
I’ve had to calculate precisely when to take an HRV reading on a Brisbane – London Flight to keep the streak. Here’s what I do.
Take a reading on the morning of the flight in Brisbane, then put my watch onto London time and take reading as soon as the new day in London turns over.
On the way home, I take a reading in the morning of the flight, then put watch onto Aussie time and watch for the next day to turn over – it will turn over quicker on the way back, but at least I have a reading on each day and can maintain the streak.
Speaking of streaks, I have also nailed an Apple Watch ‘ring-closing’ streak at 500+ days.
From a travel perspective, I also have a ‘close rings’ strategy for my annual Australia/UK trip. I try to get as much walking at the airport before I get on the plane. Thirty minutes will close the green ring and get the red ring off to a good start. The blue rings are a bit of a challenge. If you see a crazy lady walking on the spot in the aisle of the aircraft to move the red ring or shaking her hand every hour to move the blue ring, you’ll be able to point and laugh!
As with HRV measurement, it’s easier to do it from Sydney to London as there are more hours to work with, but on the return, you have to get those numbers up quickly before the day turns over. So far, perfect score.
I’ve also been known to walk on the spot in a restaurant restroom or worse still beside our table. My adult children are not amused.
Then there was the Apple watch incident. I dropped my watch it on the tiles and smashed the face! The Apple store man said ‘No problem, we can send it away for replacement. It will be back in a few days.’ He saw the look of horror on my face and reassured me that all the data would transfer over to the new watch. ‘You do not understand. I will lose my streak!!’
Walked out of the Apple store after purchasing a new upgraded watch – streak intact.
5. I learnt that tracking, consistency and commitment change who I am.
Tracking HRV has not only driven health improvements; it has changed who I am. I now know I can commit to a program and see it through.
It has taught me that I don’t need to make sacrifices. I need to figure out what’s important for me and prioritise it. Then, track it enough to get a streak you can’t let go of. From there, who knows what’s possible?
I am addicted to seeing how far I can take this by prioritising health, fitness and longevity as well as cramming my days with exciting projects.
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