What is the Heart Rate Variability (HRV)?
The implementation of the body´s own vibration into music is based on the principles of the analysis of the Heart Rate Variability (HRV) analysis. Heart rate variability, an established scientific analysis method, has been in use for many years already. This variability of the heart rate is regulated by the rhythmic changing activity of the parasympathetic and sympathetic parts of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Today HRV is regarded as a global indicator of the regulatory capacity of a human being.
In contrast to the general assumption, a healthy human heart does not beat at exact, regular intervals in relation to the distance between each heartbeat, but subtly irregularly (RR1,RR2…. see chart).
The distance between two heartbeats is defined as the time interval between the beginning of two contractions of the heart chambers. This beginning of the contraction appears in the Electrocardiogram (ECG) as the so-called R-Point (upward “R” spikes of the graphical deflections seen on a typical ECG wave). The distance between the R-points is called RR-Interval or IBI (Interbeat Interval).
Essentially the HRV is based on the functional interaction of the sympathetic- parasympathetic system and the sinoatrial (sinus) node, which can only partly be influenced intentionally. It is called the sympathovagal modulation of the sinus node activity.
The Heart Rate Variability test is an established, non-invasive electrophysiological test for an assessment of the cardiac autonomic nervous system.
There are variations with every beat of the heart. This makes sense because the organism, and thus also the heart, is constantly influenced by external and internal stimuli. A stress situation for example, caused by physical and / or mental stress, leads to an adaptive response of the heart, showing a decrease in the variation range of the heart rate. On the other hand, the variation range increases during rest and relaxation.
Parasympathetic nervous system
The parasympathetic nervous system is generally responsible for recovery actions, energy storage, digestion, sleep, and building processes of the body (trophotropic actions – relating to the innate inclination for preservation and restoration of depleted nutritional supplies). It decreases the blood pressure and decelerates the heart beat (bradycardia).
The main player of the parasympathetic nervous system is the Vagus, the tenth cranial nerve (vagus – “wandering” nerve). It reaches from the cerebellum and brainstem to the lowest viscera of the abdomen, passing the heart and major organs on its way through the body. Respiration has a big effect on the activity of the vagus. During inhalation its activity declines and during exhalation the vagus can unfold itself.
“Learn how to exhale, the inhale will take care of itself.”
Sympathetic nervous system
The main function of the sympathetic nervous system is to control active processes in the body. It is often referred as the “fight or flight” response of the body. It is responsible for the energy provision and discharge, degradation of metabolic processes (ergotropic mechanisms – the functional status of the nervous system that favours the organism’s capacity to expend energy), respiration, the acceleration of the heart beat (tachycardia) and increase of blood pressure. The sympathetic activity increases the preparedness for action. It increases the blood glucose levels to guarantee a fast energy source, and increases one’s level of attention and the power of concentration.
The Autonomic Nervous System
The Autonomic Nervous System controls the involuntary actions of the smooth muscles, heart, glands, stomach, bladder and blood vessels. The purpose of the ANS is also to regulate and balance tension and relaxation in the body. This is achieved through the antagonistic interaction of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic- parasympathetic system is influenced through the central mechanisms (brain) as well as the feedback from the periphery (organs). Thereby the measurements of the HRV can make a statment of the central mechanisms (brain) as well as of the organs.
In a nutshell it means that the higher the HRV the faster the heart can adjust to internal or external influences, and the better the organism reacts to the environment. A low HRV could be an indicator of limited health conditions, therefor acute risks in the cardiovascular system, physical illness, cancer or neuropathies.
The HRV could be compared with an indication of fever: Different kinds of diseases can be shown by fever or in a reduction of the HRV, although a lot of different causes may be the trigger for both parameters .
History of HRV
Since time immemorial humans focused on the pulse, its relation to the self- healing ability of the body and how it can be used to diagnose different causes. One of the most famous and probably most quoted person in relation to HRV is the physician Wang Shuhe, who lived 1700 years ago in China.
The sentence „If the heartbeat gets as regular as the knocking of the
woodpecker or the dripping of the rain on the roof the patient will die within 4 days“ describes beautifully the knowledge and awareness, which must already have existed at that time in relation to the variability of the heartbeat. His book “Mai Ching” in which he divides the pulse into 24 different types, had a big influence on Chinese Medicine.
Up to today the analysis of the puls is an important method in traditional Chinese Medicine to get an understanding of the actual state of a patient.
In modern medicine the HRV analysis became possible when digital signal processing techniques were developed in the 1960s. Today several thousand studies in relation to HRV show the enormous importance of this analytical method.
Early detection and prognosis
Within intensive care the HRV measurement has become important in the early detection of potential complications, for instance in sepsis (generalized a life-threatening inflammatory condition of the whole body), as well as a prognostic factor after diseases.Following the occurrence of heart diseases, HRV measurement can provide valuable indications for other problems. During rehabilitation of patients with cardiovascular symptoms it has shown that post-infarction patients with a low variability have a higher mortal rate than compared to patients with a normal HRV. It seems possible to see the risk stratification through HRV analysis.
HRV is also being used in the diagnostics of diabetic neuropathy. A reduced HRV is the first indicator of a cardiovascular autonomic diabetic neuropathy. It has shown that patients with depression has an increased heart rate and a reduced HRV. It therefor seems that people with depression might also have heart disorder.
During the course of therapy the HRV measurements can be used as a biological indicator to make a diagnosis, and for therapy selection and monitoring.
The last couple of years there has been an increase in research in sport medicine in relation to HRV. The main focus here is to see how the HRV reacts on physical activity and set training impulses accordingly. The HRV data can show when the body is being over trained.
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