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Heart rate variability

I recently tripped across a concept I had never heard of called heart rate variability. It measures the actual distance between heart beats. As much as we think our heart beats at regular intervals it does not. And oddly the more regular the heart beats are, the less healthy we are (according to studies I read). HRV can measure mental/physical stress, and can tell us when we might be over training. Now in all the reading I have done I am not sure I have a firm grasp on what this all means, but I can start with the technology side of things. Once we have the data then we can scratch things (your head … other things :)) to figure out what exactly it means. I won’t address the topic of what is HRV, or how to interpret it, I will address it from a technology point of view. There are lots of articles on HRV written by medical professionals who have a lot more cred than I. So on with the tech …

First off you need an accurate heart rate monitor. Optical ones won’t do. My Scosche for example is not supported. So your looking at a strap. The Wahoo TICKR as well as the Polar H7 both will fit the bill …

I have not found any watches that do HRV (My polar A300, Fibit Blaze don’t). I am sure one somewhere does … So that leaves us with an app. I am on an iPhone for now. I quickly zeroed in on three apps. HRV+ (free), Elite HRV (free), and SweetBeat HRV (paid). Sweatbeat even offer a free onetime HRV evaluation of the data you have uploaded in the price. Both Elite and Sweetbeat upload the data to their server (HRV+ does not).

One of the first thing I noticed is that HRV, like your heart rate can vary quite a bit, so a longer sampling gives you a more accurate reading. How long? Well I worked with all three apps for over a week and found the biggest variation (on average off by 19%) to be on the app that took the HRV for the shortest, which is HRV+ at only a 60 second reading (Vs 2 or 3 minutes). Interpreting the data is key, and HRV+ did nothing but give you the raw data. As such, I would have to say give HRV+ a pass.
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Moving onto Elite HRV I would have to say this app is by far my favorite of the three. It’s free, and who doesn’t like free! It also attempts to help you interpret the data and gives you a simple visual. The raw HRV is there, it quantifies it, compares it and even reminds you if you miss your morning HRV reading. The visual graph should help you determine if your HRV is too low, too high or just right (no references to children s books needed). A track record is really important to the apps ability to help you know where you are at physically/emotionally. You can do HRV readings anytime you want and your history data is kept for you. As a tool goes I think Elite HRV is the best of the three. The one thing that is missing is a web portal to see the results that have been uploaded to the cloud … So if there isn’t a web portal why am I uploading my data? Elite on average was within 10% of Sweetbeat.
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Last but not least is Sweetbeat HRV. I bought this after watching a video from one of the founders that went into the work they had done to correlate Sweetbeat with EKG machines. I was impressed (I drank the Koolaid). Couple this with the fact that Sweetbeat will do a manual analysis of your uploaded HRV and it seemed like a good choice. What is missing is a nice visual showing your HRV like Elite does. Oddly there is a second app from the same company for $6.99 that does give you that called DailyBeat HRV.
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They do show you your HRV throughout the session:
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And a plethora of data on your HRV that if I had no idea what to do with HRV, I REALLY have no idea what to do with this:
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As much difficulty I had getting correlation on HRV (between the apps) the other data that comes out of these apps like RMSSD (Root Mean Square of the Successive Differences) was completely all over the place. Without some believable data what the heck do I do with it?

There is a portal to log onto to see your results but it is basic at best and provides little to no tools to help you do anything with the data over and above what you get on the phone.

So tool wise there you have it. Now all I have to do is figure out what it means? I have noticed it definitely detects when I am run down, not feeling great, slept poorly etc, but do I need an app to tell me that? Maybe I should just go low tech an buy a mood ring 🙂 Maybe as a weekend warrior I just don’t need this level of focus?

Update:
I put together a how to use HRV follow up blog post following this one.

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June 29, 2016 - Posted by | iPhone/iPad

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