I mentioned in my post “Flip the Youth Switch” that heart rate variability is a good indicator of health, and of your biological age as opposed to your chronological age. In the book of that same name, author Dr. Bob Arnot managed to raise his hrv dramatically in four months. In the first month, his hrv went up 50% from 28 to 42. Since reading about this I’ve been endeavoring to follow his tips on how he achieved that. I started using a fitness tracker by Whoop that measures hrv and gives feedback on things like how much strain your workouts are accruing. how well you are recovered, and sleep quality. Mostly I changed my workouts so I do a recovery day (just some easy spinning on the bike or walking) if the gizmo tells me my recovery is poor (red). I go longer but still at fairly easy pace if my recovery is adequate but not great (yellow). And I really go for it in both intensity and volume if my recovery is great (green). This turns out to fit in well with what I was already doing, I do easy days and hard days, my recovery is poor or adequate the day after a hard day and usually great after an easy day.
But this feedback showed me that I was not in danger of overtraining and could safely go harder. If you are overtrained, you are really smashed after training hard, and may need several easy days to recover well. That wasn’t happening to me.
So I trained harder on my hard days, allowing me to get fitter. The result was that in the first month of tracking this, my hrv went from 26 to 44, almost a 70% increase (remember that more is better). The beginning value just over a month ago was below average for someone my age (then 67), while the final value was average for someone of about 50. so this is like being 15 years younger. I got this result the day before my birthday, so that was my first health present. The second was that I hit my goals for both weight and waist measurement.
I really like having the recovery and hrv feedback. There’s so much talk out there about overdoing it with exercise, “too much of a good thing” possibly making you fitter but not as healthy. It is nice to have hrv as a measure that your training is “just right” and that you are recovering adequately, so that you are fit and healthy. I’m excited to see if I can continue to keep the upward hrv trend as Dr. Arnot did.
I’m not usually not that much of a fan of fitness trackers. They can be a distraction if you look at them all the time, and are yet another device that can keep you from being in the present moment. The accuracy of some of their predictions like calories burned is also more suspect than most users realize. For a detailed discussion of this, see the book Unplugged by Brian MacKenzie, Dr. Andy Galpin, and Phil White.
But there are some exceptions. I know lots of people for which step trackers or pedometers work well. Especially if you don’t much like formal exercise, these can motivate you to get a good amount of activity accumulated during the day by “getting your steps in”.
And trackers like Whoop and its competitors, that give you recovery feedback to avoid overtraining are also quite useful, in my opinion. These are non-intrusive (the Whoop does not even have a display). You really only have to look at the result on your phone once a day, to decide if today is a good day to rest up, go easy, or go hard. You can “nerd out” on all kinds of graphs that show trends if you like, but it is not necessary.