HRV can be a helpful tool for understanding your overall readiness and adaptability. “While you can measure your heart rate by using your fingers to measure your pulse, [unfortunately] you will not be able to measure your heart rate variability without a device that can clearly measure your electrical activity from your heart,” Twyman says.
Below are a few key insights you can gain from keeping tabs on your heart rate variability:
Athletic performance and over-training: HRV has been long recommended as a tool to warn of over-training and to optimize performance in athletes of all levels4. Some HRV monitors even send you notifications when you’re pushing it too far, which can help prevent injury and stress.
Sickness: A downward trend in HRV can signal that you’re not getting adequate sleep, or that your immune system is weakened. “A decrease in heart rate variability is sometimes an early warning sign that you are about to be sick,” Twyman confirms.
Stress: Research suggests that fleeting stressful moments, such as making time-sensitive decisions, public speaking, or test-taking, can significantly decrease HRV5. Monitoring your HRV gives you more awareness during these situations, so you can properly seek out tools for coping with this acute stress.
“There are no dangers or significant downsides in measuring your heart rate variability,” Twyman confirms. He does, however, note that your HRV is very personal, and it’s best to always compare to your baseline, versus someone else’s.
“Heart rate variability can be a good tool to help gauge your health—but just like any other tool, it has to be used cautiously,” agrees Corrielus. “While there is no danger in monitoring HRV, the information has to be checked for accuracy, depending on the device’s use (some are more reliable than others), and the information has to be put into the context of the full clinical picture.”
If you have any concerns about your heart health or the data you’re seeing from a wearable tracker, it’s always best to consult your doctor.