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September 29, 2023
Do You Know Your Own Heart?
Friday September the 29th is World Heart Day, but how well do you know your own heart?
Let’s start with how brilliant it is, biologically. Your heart starts beating four weeks after conception and then beats up to 100, 000 times per day, on average through your adult years. Over a lifetime that’s about 2.5 billion beats. It pumps out about 5 litres of blood per minute through an arterial tree that is the equivalent of 60,000 miles long.
Over the last 200 years Western science’s reductionist approach has degraded the view of the heart to such a degree that many doctors now see it as little more than a pump with some arteries and valves. This is in direct contrast to the view taken by many ancient cultures, including the Babylonians, Egyptians, Mesopotamians and Greeks.
Homer wrote about the central role of the heart in human functioning in the Iliad. Aristotle believed that the heart was “the seat of the soul”.1” Hebrew, Christian, Chinese, Hindu, and Islamic traditions all share the view that the heart plays a significant role in emotions and shaping morality. They considered the heart to be “intelligent” operating independently but in concert with the brain and significantly influencing decision making quality.
Popular culture is much more in tune with this ancient rather than the reductionist scientific view. Many people still suggest we should “follow your heart”; “act whole-heartedly” or “put out heart into it”; We should “speak from the heart”; and “don’t take it to heart”; When searching for answers we are encouraged to “go deep in your heart”; or at least “know what your heart says”; If we give up it’s clear to many that’s because “their heart wasn’t in it.”
Even the Dalai Lama’s advised a group of health practitioners in 1996 that: “The brilliant brain sometimes creates more suffering. The smart brain must be balanced with the warm heart, the good heart, a sense of responsibility, of concern for the well-being of others.”
So on World Heart Day how do we reconcile the ancient and modern view of our heart with the scientific view? Fortunately, science has already created a way of doing this using modern technology called heart rate variability (HRV) analysis.
HRV is now a daily trackable data stream that can improve your health and performance
You might not realise it, but our heart rate changes with every single beat. In fact, this variance is a sign of good health. If our heart rate doesn’t vary much then our heart isn’t flexible enough to adapt to any challenges, physical, mental or emotional, we might face. Obviously if our flexibility becomes extreme (excessive HRV) then our system may be unstable. But as a general rule the more flexibility (more HRV) the better.
Our HRV is, in part, controlled by a primitive part of the nervous system called the autonomic nervous system (ANS). It works behind the scenes, automatically regulating our heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and digestion and many other bodily tasks.
Sophisticated HRV analysis can give us profound insights to how well ANS is functioning. But it can also provide insights into many other bodily functions such as hormonal output, endurance, resilience, motivation, sleep quality, day-night balance. It can be used to quantify our energy levels and even predict the quality of our thinking.
The unbelievable amount of insights HRV analysis can provide is why there has been an explosion in HRV research over the last 10 years and why so many wearable devices now assess HRV and provide users with HRV scores and feedback on their data.
But we have to be very careful here, because measuring HRV is a technically tricky business and correctly interpreting the data is even trickier. Many of the currently available devices simply don’t measure HRV with sufficient precision to generate correct results. If the data is inaccurate then the consequent guidance may also wrong. The accuracy and quality of wearable devices are gradually improving but there is still a long way to go. There is even further to go in the understanding of HRV data. I still see many basic misunderstandings of what certain HRV parameters mean.
We have tried to rectify both issue by building in more accurate HRV assessment into our Complete App, which tracks your HRV and helps you understand what it really means. The Complete App also shows you how to significantly improve your HRV data in terms of the quantity of HRV (which increase your energy and improves your health) and the quality of your HRV signal (which improves your brain function). You can see, live in any meeting, the quality of your HRV improving by tracking your level of coherence.
So our heart are really amazing and can, as many ancient traditions believed, influence a much wider set of capabilities for human beings. And thankfully modern scient is now proving many of these beliefs to be correct.
If you want to take back control of your own energy levels, and even recapture the energy you ad ten years ago as well as make sure you can think clearly under pressure you can follow the self-directed ‘missions’ on the Complete App which will show you how you can change your life using your own heart.
A physician and neuroscientist, Dr. Alan Watkins is recognised as an international expert on leadership and human performance.
Over the years he has coached thousands of individuals to greater levels of performance, transformed organisational cultures and helped leaders discover new ways to succeed. Alan has become a confidant to many of the world’s top leaders over the past 22 years.Read bio