Apple has packed a large amount of health features into the iPhone and Apple Watch. Many of these might get lost in the shuffle, but they can be important to look at. One health metric that your Apple Watch can help you track is heart rate variability. Let’s take a look at what this number is, what it means, and how you can track it.
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What Is Heart Rate Variability and Why Does It Matter?
Heart rate variability tracks the way the time between heartbeats changes. It’s measured in milliseconds, and it helps reflect how healthy your heart is.
Your heart typically does not beat at the same rate all the time. Depending on your activity level, the time between heartbeats can be shorter or longer. HRV looks at how that interval changes throughout the day. It’s important to note, this is not the same as an irregular heart rhythm. It is perfectly normal for your heart rate variability to change throughout the day.
If your HRV averages a higher number, that indicates better heart health. Your heart rate is adapting to your activity level more effectively. On the other hand, a low HRV could indicate health problems. This could indicate your heart is continuously beating too fast or, in rare cases, too slow.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, heart rate variability is an indicator of both health and happiness.
Your heart’s variability reflects how adaptable your body can be. If your heart rate is highly variable, this is usually evidence that your body can adapt to many kinds of changes. People with high heart rate variability are usually less stressed and happier.
On the other hand, a low HRV can indicate current or future health problems.
Typically, measuring HRV requires specialized equipment. However, your Apple Watch is equipped to track this value. You just may not see the results in an obvious way.
Viewing HRV Data in Apple Health
You won’t find an app on your Apple Watch to view your HRV information. However, if you go into the Health app on your iPhone, you can find it there.
Just go to Health > Browse > Heart, and look for Heart Rate Variability.
When looking at the data, you may want to change from the default view. The health app will show you the numbers for the last day your watch recorded heart rate variability. That information isn’t so useful, because it can change dramatically over time.
Instead, look at your average over a period of several months. Even better, check out the value over the course of a full year. While Apple‘s health app does not indicate what is considered a healthy HRV, there are some suggestions. As previously stated, higher numbers here tend to be better.
Improve HRV Accuracy with More Regular Measurements
Some medical experts say measuring heart rate variability from a smart watch is not accurate. On the other hand, many do point to such tracking as being a good first step in making sure your heart health is where it should be. One important step to take, though, is to provide the Health app with plenty of data during consistent times.
Since you won’t find anything on your watch that clearly says it will measure your heart rate variability, you will need to rely on other apps to do that for you. For example, the Mindfulness app will trigger data recording for heart rate variability.
Get into the habit of doing breathing exercises in Mindfulness at the same time each day. Open Mindfulness on your Watch and choose Breathe.
Whenever you do this, your Apple Watch automatically measures your heart rate, including your heart rate variability. This gives the Health app on your phone more measurements of your HRV while you are at rest. The more data points you give the health app, the more accurately it will reflect your cardio health.