HRV is a valuable health metric measured by Apple Watch, however, there is no native integration into watchOS or iOS to better understand and use the data by leaving it 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.
What is HRV?
HRV stands for Heart Rate Variability and is a measure of how the time interval between heartbeats changes. You don’t notice these small variations, but devices like the Apple Watch capture HRV, which is measured in milliseconds.
Some medical professionals argue that measuring HRV through the skin with smartwatches is not as accurate as dedicated medical equipment. But there have been studies showing that Apple Watch is as reliable as products like Polar heart rate monitors for measuring HRV.
In late 2022, we saw the most recent study released showing that Apple Watch is accurate in tracking HRV.
Why is HRV important?
While it may seem like a bad thing at first, a higher HRV is actually indicative of being healthier, happier, less stressed, and can mean you’re recovered and ready to exercise.
Many health and fitness professionals view HRV as one of the best metrics for knowing when your body needs rest or is ready to function, as well as providing insight into the condition of your autonomic nervous system.
Along with HRV, VO2 max based Cardio Fitness is a valuable metric to be aware of that can be indicative and predictive 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 highly variable, it’s usually evidence that your body can adapt to many types of changes. People with high heart rate variability are generally less stressed and happier.
On the flip side, a low (resting) HRV can indicate that your body is less adaptive/resilient and could be a sign of health problems or potential health issues in the future.
What is a good HRV number?
HRV is a very personalized and ever-evolving metric. It also depends on a variety of factors including physical and mental health/stress, diet, nutrition, alcohol use, sleep habits, age, gender, genetics, frequency/intensity of exercise, and more.
HRV can also change a lot in a day, so don’t get stuck tracking it hour by hour. With this in mind, it’s important not to use HRV comparing it to others, but just to look at your own HRV trends over time. If you have any questions about your HRV numbers, please consult your doctor.
But if you’re curious about the general HRV numbers, Whoop has published the average HRV values of 50% of its users by age:
How to use HRV with Apple Watch and iPhone
How to find Apple Watch HRV data
For Apple Watch users 18 and older, HRV is automatically recorded with the Apple Watch (in most countries). However, you have to go to the Health app on iPhone to look at the data.
- Open the Health application on the iPhone
- Click the Browse tab in the lower right corner
- Now choose Heart > Heart rate variability
- At the top, you can change the view of HRV data by day, week, month, semester and year
How to force HRV recording with Apple Watch
You can get more accurate and potentially more useful data if you manually take an HRV reading with your Apple Watch while you’re at rest and at the same time each day.
- In addition to automatic readings, you can force Apple Watch to record your HRV by opening the file Mindfulness apps and choose Breathe
- Shortly after, you’ll see the new HRV data appear in the Health app on iPhone
Get more value from your HRV data
The sticking point is that Apple Watch and the iOS Health app don’t provide HRV data recommendations or insights like Whoop or Oura.
It’s good to know that increasing heart rate variability is a good indication of overall health, but what about more actionable insights?
I used the Training Today app and was impressed with its recommendations. After allowing you to read your HRV data from the Health app, the app compares your current HRV to your baseline to make recommendations such as taking time to recover, “keep calm but listen to your body” or “ready for peak performance”.
Training Today calls it a Workout Readiness Score (RTT), and it works on an easy-to-use color-coded 0-10 scale. I’ve found that recommendations are a really helpful boost to hear what my body is telling me.
Training Today is free to download from the App Store with in-app purchases to unlock all of the app’s features.
Other great HRV-based apps to try include:
And if you happen to have a compatible Bluetooth or ANT heart rate monitor from Polar, Suunto, or others, Elite HRV is another iOS app that offers a more detailed and usable 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 revisit/prioritize:
- Diet and nutrition
- Constant sleep
- Stay hydrated
- Avoid alcohol
- Focused breathing
- Cold therapy
- Gratitude diary
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