Using Heart Rate Variability (HRV) to support Workplace Wellbeing

Anyone who has seen my recent posts in LinkedIn will know that I support my wellbeing and mental health training offers with a lifestyle assessment product where participants wear a Heart Rate Monitor (HRM). I find that this complements the workshop-based facilitation and one-to-one coaching that I provide.
But why use an HRM and how does this relate to wellbeing? Well it starts by understanding what Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is. Let me explain a bit about the science …
What Is Heart Rate Variability (HRV)?
A healthy heart beat contains healthy irregularities. Even if your heart rate is, say, 60 beats per minute, that doesn’t mean that your heart beats once every second – or at one-second intervals like a clock.
Rather, there is variation among the intervals between your heartbeats. The interval between your successive heartbeats can be, for example, 0.85 seconds between some two succeeding beats and 1.35 seconds between some other two.
Even though the difference is measured in parts of seconds, you can actually feel the difference.
Here’s a tip for anyone who wants to experience it: place a finger gently on your neck or wrist and find your pulse. You should feel that the longest intervals take place when you exhale, and the shortest intervals when you inhale.
Why Is Heart Rate Variability an Important Measure?
Why track HRV? The key is the phrase “healthy irregularities” we used in the beginning of the article. The type of variability indicated by HRV is perfectly normal. Actually, it’s desirable.
The ‘Autonomic Nervous System’
To understand HRV, we first need to understand our nervous system and heart rate. Heart rate variability can be traced back to our autonomic nervous system.
The autonomic nervous system regulates very important systems in our body, including heart and respiration rate and digestion. The autonomic nervous system has a parasympathetic (rest) and a sympathetic (activation) branch. Heart rate variability is an indicator that both branches are functioning – the parasympathetic in particular.
Intrinsic heart rate is measured in the condition in which neither parasympathetic nor sympathetic regulation is present. When completely blocked from autonomic regulation, a healthy heart contracts at a rate of about 100 beats per minute (the number is individual, however).
Parasympathetic regulation lowers your heart rate from the intrinsic level, giving more room for variability between successive heartbeats. Parasympathetic regulation causes almost immediate changes that affect only a few beats at a time, after which the heart rate returns towards the intrinsic rate. Sympathetic regulation elevates your heart rate from the intrinsic level, and there is less room for variability between successive heartbeats. Sympathetic regulation affects several consecutive heart beats.
Put these together and we can formulate a rule that when the rest-related parasympathetic branch is active and the sympathetic branch is inactive, your heart rate is lower and HRV higher.
Factors such as stress can lead to the withdrawal of parasympathetic activity, or activation of sympathetic branch even when you are resting, both leading to elevated heart rate and lowered HRV.
The Science behind it!
So how can this help support workplace wellbeing?
If colleagues wear the HRM (and this MUST be voluntary), they will be able to measure the following within a 30 – 90 day period:
Part of the service is a 121 coaching session with a professional wellbeing specialist such as myself. This helps people understand the data and make changes to their lifestyle such as improved sleep, more physical activity, time away from their desk, etc.
There is even a Team or Organisational Report
As well as individual data (using an app), there is also the option to create team or organisational reports to identify trends such as areas of strength or potential weak spots. This is confidential with no individual details given but can provide useful data to senior leadership and/or HR Teams.
Want to find out more?
I’d be really happy to talk through the product in more detail.
Please contact me by email – [email protected] or by phone on 07779 035256.