If you’re well-versed in the biohacking space, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of WHOOP. The wearable technology has captured the hearts of countless health-forward individuals, including professional athletes, Fortune 500 CEOs, military personnel, healthcare workers, and, well, me.
I’ve worn my WHOOP every day for the last three years—so suffice it to say I’m excited to have Will Ahmed, the founder and CEO of WHOOP, on today’s episode of the mindbodygreen podcast to talk about all things recovery and performance.
It’s a must-listen for anyone interested in elevating their fitness and overall health; but for now, take a peek at some of the most underrated biometrics to keep an eye on.
Contrary to what you might think, your heart doesn’t beat in a perfect, regular rhythm. Heart rate variability (HRV) is the time—measured in milliseconds—between each heartbeat and the variation in time between beat-to-beat intervals. And according to Ahmed, it provides a lens into your autonomic nervous system.
“Heart rate variability is this amazingly powerful metric to understand, in any given moment, the state of your body and how relaxed or activated it may be,” he explains. The more variability you have the better, as that’s a sign your body can adapt to its environment despite stressors. “We measure heart rate variability while you're sleeping, which creates this control every night and ultimately gives us this lens into how recovered your body [feels],” he adds.
However, like most good things, your HRV naturally declines with age. “So if you can keep your HRV the same for a number of years or even increase it, that's essentially improving your biological age,” he notes. And yes, it is possible to increase HRV with lifestyle interventions—see here for our full guide.
Next, we have resting heart rate (or RHR). “Typically speaking, the lower [it is], the better,” Ahmed notes. A lower RHR is a sign that your body feels more relaxed, as opposed to ramping up the moment you take a couple flights of stairs.
That being said, there isn’t one magic number to aim for. “We like to look at metrics relative to your baseline,” Ahmed says regarding WHOOP. For example, let’s say someone has an average resting heart rate of 50 beats per minute.”If one morning they wake up and have a resting heart rate of 65, that's a huge increase off of their baseline,” Ahmed explains. “It’s probably a signal that their body is run down.”
Even if you don’t necessarily feel run down, understanding your personal baseline is crucial. For “Especially people who are going through a period of chronic stress or illness, sometimes your mind gets calibrated to a different feeling,” Ahmed explains. “So you're actually not even noticing that your body's baseline could be way off.” That’s where metrics like RHR can be immensely helpful.
Finally, Ahmed recommends measuring your respiratory rate, or your number of breaths per minute. “We measure it while you're sleeping,” he says in terms of WHOOP, and again, your “perfect” number depends on your baseline.
Not to mention, that number doesn’t change too much from day to day. So if it does, that’s a sign you might be dealing with illness. “That's what made COVID very interesting on WHOOP, because it turned out that people who got COVID had this massive spike in their respiratory rate,” he shares. “We're talking about people who had a respiratory rate of 14 for six months straight, and all of a sudden waking up and seeing a respiratory rate of 17 or 18 breaths per minute.”
And like the aforementioned health metrics, changes to respiratory rate is not something people typically feel in their bodies. “It's something that's happening so passively. I mean, how much do people actively think about their breathing rate?” Ahmed poses. “So to be able to see that is quite a wake up call.”