HRV is a valuable metric of overall health measured by the Apple Watch, however, there is no native integration in watchOS or iOS to better understand and use the data, leaving that to third-party apps. Below, we’ll cover what HRV is, why it’s important, and how to record and use HRV with Apple Watch and iPhone.
Update 1/14/23. New research has been published that again shows that the Apple Watch accurately tracks HRV.
What is HRV?
HRV stands for heart rate variability and is a measure of how the time between heartbeats changes. You don’t notice these small deviations, but devices like the Apple Watch capture HRV, which is measured in milliseconds.
Some doctors claim that HRV measurement through the skin with smartwatches is not as accurate as special medical equipment. But there have been studies that show the Apple Watch is just as reliable as products like Polar’s heart rate monitors for measuring HRV.
Why is HRV important?
While it may seem bad at first, a higher HRV actually indicates a healthier, happier, less stressed body and can mean you’re recovered and ready to exercise.
Many health and fitness professionals consider HRV to be one of the best indicators for knowing when your body needs rest or when it’s ready to work, as well as providing insight into the state of your autonomic nervous system.
Along with HRV, Cardio Fitness based on VO2 max is a valuable metric to be aware of that can be an indicator and predictor of overall health.
Here’s how the Cleveland Clinic describes HRV:
The variability of your heart reflects how adaptable your body can be. If your heart rate is very variable, it is usually a sign that your body can adapt to many types of changes. People with high heart rate variability are generally less stressed and happier.
Otherwise, a low HRV (at rest) may indicate that your body is less adaptable/flexible and may indicate future health problems or potential health problems.
What is a good HRV number?
HRV is a highly individualized and ever-changing metric. It also depends on a number of factors, including physical and mental health/stress, diet, nutrition, alcohol consumption, sleep habits, age, gender, genetics, exercise frequency/intensity, and more.
HRV can also change a lot over the course of a day, so don’t get hung up on tracking it hour by hour. With that in mind, it’s important not to use HRV to compare it to others, but to simply look at your own HRV trends over time. If you have questions about your HRV numbers, ask your doctor.
But if you’re interested in the overall HRV numbers, Whoop has released the average HRV values of the top 50% of its users by age;
How to use HRV with Apple Watch and iPhone
How to find your HRV Apple Watch data
For Apple Watch users 18 and older, HRV is automatically recorded by Apple Watch (in most countries). However, you’ll need to go to the iPhone’s Health app to view the data.
- Open Health app on an iPhone
- Tap Browse the tab in the lower right corner
- Now choose heart >: Heart rate variability
- Above, you can change the view of HRV data by day, week, month, semester and year
How to force record HRV on Apple Watch
You can get more accurate and potentially more useful data if you take a manual HRV reading on your Apple Watch at rest and at the same time every day.
- In addition to automatic readings, you can force the Apple Watch to record your HRV by unlocking it Mindfulness app and choosing Breathe
- After a short while, you’ll see the new HRV data appear in the Health app on your iPhone
Get more value from your HRV data
The problem is that Apple Watch and the iOS Health app don’t offer any suggestions or insights into your HRV data like Whoop or Oura do.
It’s helpful to know that a trending HRV is a good indicator of overall health, but what about more actionable insights?
I have used the Training Today app and am impressed with what it has to offer. After you let it read your HRV data from the Health app, the app compares your current HRV to your baseline, suggesting things like take time to recover, “stay steady but listen to your body” or “get ready of maximum performance.”
Training Today calls it the Readiness to Train (RTT) score, and it works on an easy-to-use, color-coded 0-10 scale. I’ve found the suggestions to be a really helpful nudge to listen to what my body is telling me.
Training Today is a free download from the App Store with in-app purchases to unlock all app features.
Some of the better HRV-based apps to check out include:
And if you have a compatible Bluetooth or ANT heart rate monitor from Polar, Suunto, or other companies, Elite HRV is another iOS app that provides a more detailed and hands-on experience.
How to improve HRV?
Smart health tracker Whoop has a great article on 10 ways to improve your HRV. You probably won’t find many surprises, but the list is a good reminder of areas to review/prioritize;
- Diet and nutrition
- Consistent sleep
- Avoid alcohol
- Focused breathing
- Cold therapy
- Gratitude journal
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