We're all pretty well familiar with heart health measurements- Heart Rate, Blood Pressure. Even things like your Blood Cholesterol and circulating Blood Sugar are generally well understood by the average person to be markers of Heart Health.
What most people- even Doctors- are not realizing, is the fact that each of these measurements is a substitute data point. Because we haven't had a way to measure the health of the heart directly, various other measurements are interpreted with forumulas to correlate what the chances are that your heart might be 'healthy' or 'unhealthy'.
Fortunately, there actually is a way to measure the health of the heart directly. Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is directly and consistently the most reliable measurement of Heart Health, and consequently of whole-body, or general health.
Consider the following;
“Autonomic nervous system function is assessed clinically by measuring resting HR, HR variability (HRV), or HR recovery after exercise. HRV is modulated by many physiologic or pathologic states. Adjustments from the sympathetic modulations are slow, on the time scale of seconds, whereas those from the parasympathetic are fast, on the time scale of milliseconds. Thus, the parasympathetic influences will generate more rapid changes in the beat-to-beat regulation of the heart. There is extensive literature documenting a number of determinants of autonomic tone.6,7 Human HR is not regular and varies in time, and such variability, also known as HRV, is not representing background noise or a random phenomenon.8 These variations are thought to be the result of complex interactions between extrinsic environmental and behavioral factors and intrinsic cardiovascular regulatory mechanisms (neural central, neural reflex, and humoral influences) that are not yet completely understood.9 Nevertheless, HRV is a surrogate index of cardiac autonomic nerve function and a marker of imbalanced sympathetic/vagal activities (sympathetic tone enhancement or vagal tone depression). HRV also independently predicts cardiovascular disease mortality not only in patients with coronary artery disease or chronic heart failure but also in apparently healthy populations.10–12” 1 [emphasis mine]
As you can see from the above exerpt, HRV is a direct measurement of not only your heart health, but of your body's ability to regulate its most basic functions via the autonomic nervous system.
What's more, measuring Heart Rate Variability is extremely simple, easy, and anyone can do it!
Understanding the science really is not necessary to reap the benefits of these discoveries. Learning how your body and mind feel and behave when you have a high HRV is as simple as paying attention to your breathing. Noticing your breath, which is the basis of many meditation practices, naturally increases your HRV. Simply notice your breath. Then, notice how this makes you feel.
I can testify personally that, while monitoring my HRV, and noticing how I feel, there is a direct correlation between a high coherence and the higher emotions. Anxiety, fear, anger, jealousy, etc, are all emotions that seem to be inherently incompatible with a high HRV state. Conversely, happiness, joy, generosity, love, and empathy seem to spontaneously appear and are supported by the high HRV state.
There are very neat gadgets out there now that can measure your HRV for you. One of these gadgets is a small, pocket-sized device called a HearthMath emWave. This device allows you to monitor your HRV, and it gives you feedback on how you're doing. The emWave also has a unique reward system whereby it gives you an auditory ping, and adds bars to your 'score' the longer you're in a highly variable state. HeartMath software allows you to review your own data to see how you've improved (or not) over time. Using such a device, it is possible to train your body to remain in a high HRV state for longer, hence, increasing your heart's coherence, and probably prolonging your life!
Alternatively, simple meditation practice can do the same thing. Although it's been my experience that a feedback device such as the emWave will allow you to attain the high HRV states faster.
If nothing else, just sit quietly for awhile and experiment. Notice how you feel. And let me know your experiences!
1. Exercise, Heart Rate Variability, and Longevity http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/129/21/2085