Heart rate variability (HRV), a term used to define the extent of variation in your heart rate from its lowest beating speed to its fastest has been shown to influence our emotional health. In other words, the wider the range of your heart rate, the higher and better your emotional resilience. HRV, the beat-to-beat fluctuations in the rhythm of the heart, results from the regulation of the heart by the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Low HRV is associated with increased risk of all-cause mortality and is a marker for a wide range of diseases (1).
Conversely, if you’re able to maximize your heart rate variability, then you’re also increasing your emotional strength and resilience. Meditation, behavioural therapy, biofeedback, regular physical activity, and certain pharmaceuticals have been shown to improve HRV. Another therapy that has been shown to have a significant positive effect on HRV and consequently emotional health is acupuncture. I like to think of it as having ‘therapy’ without ‘therapy’. There is strong evidence from randomized placebo controlled trials in the literature to support the conclusion that acupuncture improves HRV (1,2). In the field of psychophysiology, the interest in HRV is in its relationship to emotional arousal. High-frequency (HF) activity has been found to decrease under conditions of acute time pressure and emotional strain and elevated state anxiety, presumably related to focused attention and motor inhibition(4,5). HRV has been shown to be reduced in individuals reporting a greater frequency and duration of daily worry. Acupuncture on the other hand has been shown to improve HRV. Specifically, stimulation of acupuncture points induced a significant decrease in heart rate (HR), HRV total power, low frequency (LF) power and ratio of low frequency to high frequency (LF/HF), and a significant increase in the HF power (2).
My interest in researching this link between the above health topics (HRV, mental health and acupuncture) was aroused by browsing through the following book: Wait: The Art and Science of Delay by Frank Partnoy. I highly recommend this book for a more positive attitude on procrastination and the importance of making decisions with both our minds and hearts.