Health

How Well Does Heart Rate Variability Reflect Overall Health?

How Well Does Heart Rate Variability Reflect Overall Health?

Resting heart rate, or pulse -- the number of times your heart beats per minute -- is a standard medical vital sign. But what your doctor can’t measure from the office, or doesn’t, is the more obscure, but equally important heart rate variability (HRV).   

Imagine the planets stretched from the sun to poor, beleaguered  ‘maybe I’m a planet, maybe I’m not’ Pluto.  Each planet is a heartbeat. But see how the space between them varies?

That’s heart rate variability.

Heart rate variability measures the space between each beat, and how much it varies from the other spaces. Does your heart go Thump. Space. Thump. Space? Or does it go Thump. Space. Space. Thump. Space. Thump. Space. Space. Space.

If some spaces are longer and others are shorter, you have high heart rate variability. If all the spaces are the same, without peaks and valleys, you have low heart rate variability.

Which is Better?

High heart rate variability is a sign of health. Low heart rate variability is associated with aging, decline, illness and mortality.

What’s our maximum heart rate during exercise?

Our heart rate varies in response  to what's going on around us. As the energy needs of our body increase our heart rate quickens. It beats faster to increase the volume of oxygenated blood it can push to our muscles.

At rest a healthy heart beats between 50 and 90 times a minute. During exercise or activity it might double.

To find your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220.  You shouldn’t exceed that target. When you exercise, aim to stay within 60 to 85% of that maximum heart rate. (Ex. if you are 30 your maximum heart rate is 190. Stay in a target zone  between 114 and 161 BPM. For a 60 year old, the maximum heart rate is 160, so your target range is lower, 96 to 136.) Some physicians and trainers recommend staying within 50 to 75%. These are just guidelines. Individual goals should reflect your general fitness and heart health.

Why Does It Matter?

HRV measures your heart’s resilience. Its ability to bounce back from effort. High HRV lets you respond with speed and efficiency when your body demands more blood, more oxygen, more performance. High heart rate variability is a sign of flexibility, strength and responsiveness.

As such it is a key indicator of heart health and general fitness.

Stress, Aging and HRV

Decreasing heart rate variability has been inked with decline and is a predictor of mortality. Research links low HRV to illness, sexual problems, and reduced independence (our ability to perform everyday tasks with ease and confidence).

HRV is closely linked to stress and aging.

Humans engage in a constant cycle of stress and recovery. Our bodies are designed to mobilize when stressed, triggering various processes to restore balance. We fluctuate between homeostasis (balance) and allostasis (all the tricks our bodies use to respond to stressors and recover equilibrium).

HRV is a marker for two kinds of allostasis: acute (temporary stress) and cumulative (allostatic load). HRV is sensitive to acute stress. Mental effort such as complex decisions or speaking in public lower HRV. As a marker of cumulative wear and tear, our HRV has also been shown to decline with the aging process.

Our resting heart rate stays constant as we age but our HRV declines. Regular exercise slows aging and raises our HRV.

The more varied our heart rate (the space between the beats) the healthier we are. High HRV renders us better able to maintain balance (homeostasis), overcome stress, and slow down the aging process (the cumulative wear and tear or allostatic load).

Can We Improve our HRV?

The good news is yes, heart rate variability can be regained. HRV is a function of cardio health. The heart is a muscle. Like any other muscle, it gets stronger with exercise. Anything you do to improve your heart health will also improve its HRV.

Interval training

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) alternates microbursts of intense activity with moderate exercise. It’s especially beneficial for cardiovascular fitness, weight loss, and increasing HRV.  This training lets your heart  practice a cycle of maximum effort and recovery. It’s in this recovery that the heart strengthens and HRV increases.

Every week brings new research on the impact of HRV. Recent studies have shown just 10 weeks of HIIT improved insulin function. HIIT may protect sedentary women against diabetes.

A technical analysis of HRV includes measuring bands by frequencies, classified as very low frequency, high frequency and low frequency.  Each of these frequencies plays a special role in the autonomic nervous system and vagal health. High frequency bands reflect vagal activity. The low/high frequency ratio implicates sympathetic activity.

The very low frequency band indicates the balances between the vagal and sympathetic systems. New research shows that, unlike the other 2 bands, the very low frequency of HRV does not bounce back quickly after mental stress task. This underscores the link between stress, cognitive function, and HRV.

This research confirms that the low frequency is the “slow recovery” component of HRV and the other bands are the “quick recovery” components. This may shed light on the potential role of HRV on cardiovascular disease prevention.

HRV impacts multiples aspects of physical and mental healthy. Patients with depression and hostility  or depressive disorders have reduced heart rate variability and may be at higher risk for coronary heart disease. Reduced HRV is also linked to anxiety sexual problems and reduced capacity for independence and self care in older people.   

Our Evolving Understanding

A new tennis ball bounces with vigor, almost quivering with potential energy. It bounces high. Bounces low. Thwangs off the racket.

Now think of an old spent tennis ball. Limp. Not much bounce.

A healthy heart is like a new tennis ball. It is strong and elastic.

HRV measures the elasticity of our hearts. It is a key measure of heart health, where high heart variability signifies vigor, and low HRV is a sign of diminishing health.

Tracking our heart rate and HRV lets us evaluate steps we take to improve health and fitness.

Fortunately, there is a direct correlation between exercise and heart health. All we need to do is get started.

6 ways to breathe easy during exercise

6 ways to breathe easy during exercise

Do you find that you breathe harder during exercise? If so, you are among the 100 percent of living mammals who also find that breathing is more labored during physical activity.

But, did you know that the more labored your breathing, the less oxygen is able to move freely through your body? It’s true, and it isn’t just our lungs that need oxygen. In fact, our muscles and entire body use oxygen as a main energy source to function properly.

Simply put, you need oxygen to exercise, which is why we’ve brought you six ways to breathe easy during exercise.

1. Consider the activity you’re participating in

Not all physical activities are the same, making it only natural that you will be breathing differently to produce the amount of oxygen your body needs. Take long distance running vs sprinting, for example. When running slower, it is best to do slow, deep breathing to keep relaxed and the oxygen flowing. However, when doing sprints or running up hills, you will need to breathe more shallow and rapid, because that's your body’s best way to get the oxygen during these exercises.

If you’re weight lifting, experts say that you should focus on exhaling when you lift and inhaling when you lower. This is because when you lower your weights, your blood pressure drops, and you need to take this time to add more oxygen to your blood so you don’t pass out.

2. Remember to exhale

When people think of breathing, the focus is often put on inhaling because that is when oxygen enters the body. However, exhaling is equally as important because it is when carbon dioxide is eliminated.

Oftentimes, when you breathe hard during exercise, it's not just because your lungs need more oxygen but most likely because you need to exhale the carbon dioxide that builds up in your exhausted muscles.

By remembering to exhale, it will give you more control over your breathing in general, thus improving the oxygen levels in your blood to circulate throughout your body.

3. Get some fresh air

While it is nice to believe that all the air you breathe is clean and fresh, it isn’t. From pollutants caused by cars, homes and buildings, to other methane gases, the air you breathe may not be the best. This is why it is important to find ways to get fresh air.

Go for a walk in the mountains or a tree-lined park. Open windows to let air circulate throughout your home. Increase the number of live plants in your home and/or office. Doing these things will improve upon your fresh oxygen intake. 

4. Eat healthy

We know that eating healthy improves the way we feel, but how? Well, certain foods contain properties that can improve blood oxygen levels, allowing oxygen to move more freely throughout your body so your body can work at its optimum level.

For instance, foods high in chlorophyll, such as raw fruits, green vegetables, seeds and nuts, have cleansing properties that clear the blood of toxins, and they also stimulate red blood cell production improving blood oxygen levels over time. 

Additionally, foods high in protein such as beans, nuts, spinach, asparagus, green beans, potatoes and avocados can boost your hemoglobin count, so your red blood cells can carry  oxygen to tissue throughout the body. Even lean meats like fish and chicken can also boost hemoglobin levels. However, make sure to limit processed meats, as recent research published in the National Library of Medicine found that a diet rich in processed meat may make it harder to breathe, particularly if you have asthma. 

5. Exercise

So, the very thing that you think is causing you breathing woes will actually improve your oxygen levels. Daily exercise consisting of a mixture of strength and cardio training will keep your oxygen levels up, your resting heart rate down, and in turn can increase those levels when not exercising.

Simply put, you need oxygen to exercise, and the more you exercise, the more oxygen your body will get. It’s a win, win!

6. Test your blood oxygen level

Even when doing all of the above, it is good to know where you stand regarding your blood oxygen level so that you have a good indicator of how much oxygen your body is getting. 

Blood oxygen saturation (abbreviated SpO2) is a measure of how much oxygen the blood is carrying. Due to the fact that our bodies breathe voluntarily, and do a pretty good job at keeping the levels where they need to be, it is safe to say that generally speaking, more than 89 percent of your red blood should be carrying oxygen at any given time. 

Sometimes, however, our bodies aren’t working as well as they should. Perhaps you have a heart rate variability that is too high (pumping too much blood) or too low (not pumping enough blood). Either of these can cause an imbalance in the amount of oxygen being distributed throughout your body putting strain on the heart, lungs, and liver and keeping the body from functioning properly.

By getting your SpO2 tested, you will be able to know why your breathing is so labored during certain exercises so that you can make the proper adjustments to help make sure that you will be able to breathe much easier during exercise as you move forward to a healthier and happier you.

Resting Heart Rate: 70 is the New 90

Resting Heart Rate: 70 is the New 90

Our hearts thump steadily inside our chest ensuring we live to fight another day. How fast it beats when we sit still is called our resting heart rate (RHR). It’s a standard medical vital sign and a key measurement of health and fitness.

A quick Google search for normal resting heart rate will tell you: “A normal resting heart rate for adults ranges from 60 to 100 beats a minute.” But what if what we thought we knew was wrong? A quiet revolution has been taking place, and the internet is now just beginning to notice.

We take a deep dive into what makes a good Resting Heart Rate?

What’s normal? 

The classic guideline for normal ranges between 60 and 100 beats per minute. The lower the better.

But it turns out that there is an immense difference between 60 and 100 beats per minute (BPM). 60 signifies health and vitality.  100 does not. Researchers now know: every increase in resting heart rate brings a heightened risk of illness and death.

The New Normal?

Back in 1992 prominent cardiology researcher David H. Spodick challenged the 60 to 100 guideline, suggesting a re-calibrated range of  50 to 90 BPM. The conventional limits were “established by consensus and never formally examined,” he said. Clinical experience led him to conclude that both figures were too high. So Spodick delved deeper: “We investigated this formally. The normal resting daytime heart rate ranges for sinus rhythm should be readjusted from 60-100 to 50-90.

“About 50-70 beats per minute is ideal,” per WebMD, quoting cardiologist Suzanne Steinbaum, MD.  

Yet 35 years later the 60 to 100 guideline persists. Even the American Heart Association (quoting the NIH) and Mayo Clinic cite 60 to 100.

Why Does it Matter?

It’s not just the high end of the range that spells trouble. New research shows every ten point increase in RHR increases your risk of illness and death, from all causes not just cardiac disease.

Ulrik Wisloff, co-author of one of the studies, explains, “The short answer is having an RHR above 85 may be very unhealthy. Keeping your resting heart rate below 70 is best.”

Mounting Research

Study after study confirms this.

A RHR of 100 can predict lowered mortality, even in healthy adults. The Canadian Journal of Cardiology reports, “elevated heart rate (90 beats/min or greater) is a risk factor, particularly for sudden cardiac death.”

In fact, a resting heart rate of more than 80 beats a minute brings a 45 percent greater risk of death from any cause. Even those with a relatively healthy RHR between 60 to 80 have an increased mortality risk (21 percent) over those with a rate below 60.

It’s not just heart trouble. A 28 year longitudinal study of 53,322 people in Texas found “a resting heart rate greater than 80 beats per minute is a strong predictor for future heart attacks, diabetes and even cancer.”

A meta review of 18 epidemiological studies showed “a mortality excess of 30% to 50% for every 20 beats/min increase” in RHR.

Cause or Effect?

Increasing evidence suggests that an elevated heart rate doesn’t just predict a higher risk. It may actually be causing it. Elevated heart rates can reduce the elasticity of the larger arteries. A high heart rate itself may be a cardiovascular risk factor. Researchers are now studying whether lowering the heart rate can reduce cardiovascular risk.

More than 32 studies prove elevated heart rate is an independent risk factor, suggesting that

lowering RHR may play a key role in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.

It’s not just humans: “Across a wide range of mammals slower heart rates are associated with greater longevity

Even a RHR of 76 beats per minute, well within the classic 60 to 100 BPM guidelines, may be linked to a higher risk of heart attack.

A resting heart rate of more than 80 beats a minute brings a 45 percent greater risk of death from any cause. Even those with a relatively healthy RHR between 60 to 80 had an increased mortality risk (21 percent) over those with a rate below 60.

An elevated RHR is also linked to reduce ability to perform everyday tasks in the elderly. Researchers emphasize the need for early intervention: “Because functional disability develops gradually, it is important to identify it early and take steps to delay decline, such as exercise, medication and other interventions.” Senior in this study with the highest RHR had an  “80 percent increased risk of decline in their ability to do basic daily activities, and a 35 percent increased risk of decline in their ability to do more complicated daily tasks”.

Given this research, the widely quoted parameters of 60 - 100 are just plain wrong. The paradigm has shifted from “60 to 100 is normal” to “Keep your RHR as low as possible and see a doctor if it increases > 10 points”.

Elite Athletes and Resting Heart Rate

Like any muscle, the heart grows stronger with use. The stronger it becomes the more efficient it is. It can pump larger volumes of blood with less effort,Elite athletes and the tremendously fit have RHR far below 60. This signifies extreme efficiency of their cardiovascular system. Even for those of us who may not be ultra-fit, there are interventions to lower our RHR.

What Factors Affect Resting Heart Rate?

Internal

  • Emotions (increase)
  • Fitness (decrease)
  • Activity (increases)
  • Body size (increases)
  • Dehydration (increases)

External

  • Temperature (heat/humidity increase RHR)
  • Position (increases initially when you stand up, then stabilizes)
  • Medication (varies: beta blockers slow RHR, thyroid medicine can increase it)

How Can You Lower your Resting Heart Rate?

While researchers are still weighing the exact connection between an elevated RHR and por health, it’s clear that a low resting heart rate is a desirable sign of fitness. The best way to lower your RHR is to become more fit. Exercise s the number one fix, especially aerobic movement that taxes and strengthens your heart.

Lose weight. Stop smoking. Eat healthy. Nearly every known factor to improve health will also lower your resting heart rate.

How Often Should You Measure It?

Harvard recommends that you “check your resting heart rate early and often”.

Everyone’s heart beats but not everyone’s heart beats the same way or at the same rate.

The standard measure of heart rate is beats per minute (how many times does it go thump thump thump over 60 seconds). The spacing between each beat is not uniform - that’s called heart rate variability, and it’s actually better to have MORE variability than less.  That shows your heart is capable of adjusting to changing stimuli inside and outside your body.

Our heart beats is that it varies wildly over the course of the day depending on whether we are still, active, calm, agitated or asleep.  

So when it comes to measuring our heart rate, for purposes of accuracy and uniformity we measure it when we are at rest. We’ve been sitting still for a few minutes.

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association says to follow your RHR over time. "A healthy adult is expected to have RHR of 70,” says researcher Ulrik Wisloff, PhD. If your HRH increases more than 10 beats, says Wisloff, get a thorough check of your heart and blood vessels and ask your family doctor for advice about lifestyle changes.

Wearable tech now allow us to keep track of changes in our RHR. Given the research driven paradigm shift, it’s not a moment too soon.

7 Ways to Restore Parasympathetic Balance

7 Ways to Restore Parasympathetic Balance

Half the people reading this will show it to someone else. 

Here’s why. It turns out (spoiler alert!) that a weekly massage is not a luxury, it’s one of the top 7 ways to keep your body in healthy homeostasis.

First, it's important to know how our body is run by the ground control of our Nervous system. It looks like this:

Nervous System

  • Central Nervous System (Our brain and spinal column)
  • Peripheral Nervous System (Everything else)
  • Somatic nervous system (How we move on purpose)
  • Autonomic nervous system (Things we do without thinking, like our heartbeat)
  • Sympathetic (‘fight or flight’)
  • Parasympathetic (rest and recovery)

How healthy we are depends on how well balanced our autonomic nervous system is.

Autonomic Nervous System

Our autonomic nervous system (ANS) controls our involuntary and unconscious body functions. It keeps us alive while we sleep. It helps us breathe when we’re unconscious. It tells our heart how fast to beat and makes sure our muscles have adequate blood/oxygen when we ‘tell’ them to move. It operates without our knowledge or consent, without our lifting a finger to help.

There are 2 branches: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system ( PSNS). They do different things but function as corollaries, not opposites. Our SNS is external facing. It provides the speed, energy and fuel to thwart danger. PSNS is internally-directed. It takes care of the daily business of life: Rest. Digestion. Reproduction (yes, with a boost from our SNS during sex). It’s nicknamed Rest & Digest or Breed & Feed. Two sides of the same coin, that can only be spent together.

Within the ANS, there is a constant calibration between the sympathetic and the parasympathetic systems.

This YouTube video casts their intertwined, codependent relationship as Sherlock and Watson, Hermione and Ron. The SNS and PSNS work together, each playing to their strengths.

SNS (Fight or Flight)

Our body constantly scans our environment, evaluating stimuli. When we sense a threat, our sympathetic nervous system leaps into action to immediately divert resources to the parts of our body needed to fight danger.

The SNS activates our adrenal gland. Our breathing quickens, to bring in more oxygen. Our heart beats faster, to increase blood flow to our muscles. Our pupils dilate (get larger) the better to see our foe.

Digestion slows. Our mouth dries. We don’t need to pee anymore. We are ready for battle.

PSNS (Rest and Recovery)

The parasympathetic nervous system is our default setting when we are not in danger. It lets us conduct the day to day business of life. Eating. Sleeping. Recovering. Reproducing.

It is an anabolic process, which builds up needed compounds.

When our PSNS is activated our heart slows. Our breathing calms. Because we don’t need to run, fight or hide, our body sends blood to our organs and away from skeletal muscles. We digest our food. We make hormones. We repair our muscles. We build strength. Our body is in a state of relaxation, and this relaxation breeds recovery. The more time we spend in PSNS the healthier we are.

Hormones/Neurotransmitters

Neurotransmitters help neurons communicate with each other across a synapse. Hormones are secreted by glands. Some compounds can act as either a hormone or a neurotransmitter, and can also they can have opposite effects depending where and why they are excreted.

We have two kinds of muscle tissue. Skeletal muscle (striated muscle) is used for voluntary movement. Smooth muscle is used for involuntary actions like digestion and constriction/dilation of blood vessels.

Our nervous system uses hormones and neurotransmitters to make whatever changes in these muscles it decides we need. The main ones are: adrenaline (increases circulation and breathing), noradrenaline, and acetylcholine (slows heart rate).

Balance

The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are always operational, but there is a balance between them. One or the other is always more active. The yin and yang pull of these two systems keeps our body in homeostasis, or balance. Together they ensure that we have enough resources, in the right places, at the right time. Running from a tiger, or for a train? Your SNS sends blood to your leg muscles and oxygen to your lungs to propel you along. Kicking back after Sunday dinner to watch a game? Your PSNS will relax your skeletal muscles and send blood to your organs to speed digestion.

Exercise and the parasympathetic nervous system

Tissues need oxygen to survive. Blood brings us oxygen. When we exercise, our muscles need 15 to 25 times more oxygen than when we’re at rest. The cardiorespiratory system makes sure our blood volume is adequate to do so.

When we work out, our SNS is activated, initiating key physiological changes.

  • We sweat to regulate our temperature.
  • Our heart beats faster to bring more oxygen to our muscles.

(The UC Davis SPorts Medicine Department advises using a heart rate monitor to gauge effort.)

  • We breathe faster to take in more oxygen. We might even pant.
  • Our liver releases glucose for energy.
  • Our blood pressure increases (more volume).
  • Our blood moves from our organs to our skeletal muscles.

(That’s why we don’t eat before we exercise. Exercise slows digestion. Eating makes your body choose between strength and speed or digestion. A good rule of thumb is to avoid small meals or snacks for an hour before exercise, and to wait 3 to 4 hours after a large meal.)

These changes make sure we are ready for action. But what happens when the SNS is overstimulated?

Negative impact of heightened SNS

Our SNS is designed to help us survive life-threatening emergencies. As a catabolic process it breaks down tissue and expends energy. If we spend too long in this heightened state of SNS there will be negative consequences.

Our bodies cannot easily differentiate between real and imagined stress. Just the idea of exercise, before we start, triggers an anticipatory heart rate increase. Our bodies are not meant to have a perpetually activated SNS. Chronic stress activates our SNS. The fight or flight response originated to save our lives, not wash us with adrenalin and dread every time our boss shows up unexpectedly or we watch a scary movie.

We toggle between each system as needed.

If we spend too much time in SNS, we neglect our PSNS and our health suffers. When medical professionals say stress is bad for you, they mean an activated SNS, without a return to SNS, is bad for you. All the negative consequences of stress are really negative consequences of SNS. Think of it as adrenalin poisoning. A little bit can save your life. Too much and you’ll be exhausted, unsettled, with cognitive decline, poor sleep, a compromised immune system, and a body that cannot repair itself.

Exercise without recovery will end in depletion, not strength.

PSNS bolsters recovery

Activating the PSNS promotes recovery and can be measured via heart rate variability. The more time we spend in PSNS the faster we bounces back, repair damage, and gain strength.

Restorative sleep helps. Our autonomic balance during REM is similar to wakefulness. During non-rapid eye movement sleep the balance shifts from SNS to PSNS dominance, bolstering recovery.

How to restore balance

So back to the massage we promised you.

Once we understand the difference between SNS and PSNS we can actively try to stimulate our PSNS. Coach Chrissy Zmijewski recommends activating our PSNS to decrease recovery time after exercise. Here are 7 fixes to restore the balance between your SNS and PSNS.

  1. Reduce Stress

Stress is ubiquitous. Good health depends on removing or reducing whatever stressors we can control, and reduce our reactions to those we can’t.

  1. Meditation

We can’t remove all external stress. Meditation is the best way to decrease our reactivity to stress we can’t control. It teaches us to ignore triggers. It reduces our breathing, slows our heart, and decreases our blood pressure: all signs of PSNS activation. Meditations reduces lactic acid in our muscles, promoting recovery.

  1. Massage

Regular massage has been shown to restore balance between SNS and PSNS. Massage makes us stronger, calmer, and more able to fight infection. By activating the PSNS, massage promotes recovery. It retrains the body to move more readily into PSNS even when we’re stressed.

  1. Breathing

Breathing straddles the peripheral nervous system and the autonomic system. It happens automatically but we can also control it. We can hold our breathe for example, but we cannot stop our heart. Slowed breathing is a hallmark of PSNS. But it’s not just a symptom, it’s a signal. Slowing your breathing intentionally tells your SNS than things are okay. This activates the PSNS.

Daily breathing exercises will strengthen your lungs, improve your immune system, and decrease your resting heart rate. Here’s a simple way to activate your PSNS. Inhale for a count of 2. Hold that breathe for a count of 5. Exhale for a count of 7. Repeat.

  1. Yoga

Like meditation, yoga will bring you into PSNS, It also bolsters your ability to decrease SNS activation when you are stressed.

Daily or weekly yoga classes, or even a quick yoga video at home, will improve your strength, flexibility and breathing.

  1. Nutrition

Can what you eat affect your SNS/PSNS balance? Yes. Avoiding stimulants such as caffeine and sugar will facilitate PSNS. An anti-stress diet brings the right mix of protein, minerals and other nutrients to support PSNS.

  1. Exercise

Yes, intense exercise, even the idea of it, stimulates our SNS. But regular aerobic exercise such as light jogging can actually decrease SNS activity and activate our PSNS. The key is moderation and measurement.

Unwelcome sympathy

Our sympathetic nervous system is key to our survival. But like the sympathy of a well-meaning friend, too much can be, well, too much. The more time we spend in PSNS, the healthier and stronger we’ll be. These 7 tips are a great start.

Take this Advice with a Grain of Salt

Take this Advice with a Grain of Salt

Too much salt is bad for you. Everyone knows this. Lose the salt shaker, we’ve been told, by our doctors. Our mothers. The government. Our trainers. Turns out, maybe we should take this advice with, er, a grain of salt. That is, with skepticism.

In a new book The Salt Fix author James DiNicolantonio comes out swinging. Subtitled Why the Experts Got It All Wrongand How Eating More Might Save Your Life, the book lays out the case that medicine has been ignoring its own research. Study after study, he says, shows the dangers of salt consumption are exaggerated, the risks of a low salt diet understated, and, when it comes to government recommendations? The numbers are just plain wrong.

What is Salt?

Salt (NaCl or sodium chloride) is a mineral made up of equal parts sodium and chloride. Most commercial salt is harvested through mining or solution mining existing salt deposits. Salt occurs naturally throughout the world and is necessary for all life.

Do a quick Google search on ‘tips for heart health”. Nearly every search result will tell you to reduce or eliminate the salt in your diet. Authorities firmly on the no-such-thing-as-good-salt bandwagon include Harvard the British National Health Service, the CDC Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention (CDC), Health.gov and the American Heart Association. The CDC has launched a Sodium Reduction Initiative.

And for people with existing high blood pressure, salt is a serious irritant. Salt reduces their kidney's’ ability to remove water. This extra fluid strains blood vessels and can elevate blood pressure further.

What’s the deal with blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the measurement of blood moving through the circulatory system. It is measured by two numbers: systolic (the top number, is the pressure in your blood vessels while your heart beats) and diastolic (the bottom number, is the pressure as your heart rests between beats). A normal range is systolic under 120 mmHg and diastolic reading under 80 mmHg. (120/80.) Hypertension (high blood pressure) is diagnosed when systolic exceeds 140 mmHg. Or diastolic tops 90 mmHg.

High blood pressure increases the long term heart risk and stroke. Dangerously high blood pressure raises the immediate risk of stroke, heart attack, organ failure or death. Low blood pressure can also signify a problem. Plummeting blood pressure from any cause is a life threatening emergency.

Blood pressure is affected by the heartbeat and the width and elasticity of our arteries. Salt and potassium also work together to regulate blood pressure and circulating blood volume.

Without salt our bodies could not sustain blood volume. Our blood vessels would literally collapse, leading to circulatory collapse, hypovolemic shock and eventually death.

How Much Salt is Too Much?

Nutrition and health are closely related. Given the demonstrated connection between high blood pressure and poor cardiac outcomes, health officials have sought behavioral interventions to lower blood pressure. Salt, known to raise blood pressure in people with already high blood pressure, was an obvious target. Salt began to be seen as bad in general. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend less than 2.3 grams of sodium per day. The average American now eats 3.4 grams.

Some people are salt sensitive. High salt intake raises their blood pressure. A low salt diet decreases their blood pressure. Other folk are salt resistant. It’s not clear why. There is no unified theory of what causes high blood pressure. We do know that there is a connection between blood pressure and the ability to maintain core body temperature.

But for people who aren’t salt sensitive, restricting salt intake may not make sense. DiNicolantonio, author of The Salt Fix, says our relationship with salt is ancient as we “evolved from the briny sea”. He posits that healthy adults should actually be consuming 3 to 6 grams, more than double the current recommended limit.

Salt plays a key role in blood volume, hydration, electrolyte balance and general homeostasis.

Salt and our resting heart rate

When exercising, a healthy heart can even double its heart rate and still not cause an unhealthy rise in blood pressure. Blood vessels just get larger (dilate) to allow increased flow. But what about our resting heart rate?

Resting heart rate is a key measure of our overall health. The lower the better. DiNicolantonio is a cardiovascular research scientist and doctor of pharmacy, We reached out to him to ask about the impact of salt on our resting heart rates. “Low-salt diets have been found to increase heart rate in humans in several studies,” he said.

What about heart rate variability?

Heart rate variability (HRV) is the diversity of spacing between each heartbeat. High HRV is a marker of cardiac health. People with high blood pressure have decreased HRV. So what is the role of salt intake in HRV?

Sodium balance and related changes in plasma volume help determine our HRV. High salt diets might affect people with high blood pressure differently, including their HRV. “The data on heart rate variability are less consistent,” says DiNicolantonio, “but it is possible that by chronically stimulating the sympathetic nervous system low-salt diets may lead to altered heart rate variability.”

One study of heart rate variability centered on salt sensitivity and blood pressure. Researchers found that the body makes adjustments to regulate blood pressure. When salt intake is low, the heart and peripheral vasculature increase cardiac activity and vascular tone. When salt intake is high, the body decreases cardiac activity.

New areas of study

In 2014 The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) convened to examine Salt's Effect on Human Health. This working group “identified scientific gaps and challenges and highlighted some opportunities for scientific inquiry and technical development” concluding, “the initial research that implicated salt as a factor in important diseases points to the need to further illuminate the biological mechanisms and pathological processes to which salt may contribute”.

Specific areas for further study include the role of hypertension in autoimmune diseases; salt-sensitive hypertension; how we store salt in our skin; how to determine salt sensitivity at an individual level; new technologies to measure sodium concentrations in human tissue; and even a Sodium MRI to help reveal the role of salt in health and disease.

DiNicolantonio links low-sodium diets to medical risks including obesity, heart failure, and kidney disease, concluding “overconsumption of salt is not the primary cause of hypertension”.

“Salt restriction. “ he says, “may actually worsen overall cardiovascular health. and may lead to other unintended consequences (insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and obesity).”

He just performed an overview of existing research entitled, Is Salt a Culprit or an Innocent Bystander in Hypertension? A Hypothesis Challenging the Ancient Paradigm The study highlights a substantial body of peer-reviewed evidence, and concludes that high salt consumption is not always bad, and low salt diets are not always a panacea. Salt intake is a proven risk for folk who already have high blood pressure. The rest of us could be eating salt (within reason). A low salt diet, says DiNicolantonio, is even potentially heart harmful.

So who’s right? Looks like the debate will continue for little while longer. In the meantime, know your risk factors, check your blood pressure, monitor your heart rate, get plenty of exercise and don’t go overboard on the salt. But you might not need to skimp on it either.

The Importance of Measuring Resting Heart Rate

The Importance of Measuring Resting Heart Rate

Resting Heart Rate can be a strong indicator of overall health and fitness—here are the essentials on why you measure it and how to lower it. 

For decades, athletes and trainers have obsessively tracked Resting Heart Rate (RHR) as an indicator of athletic performance, but a low RHR is an important vital sign which indicates overall good health.

Resting Heart Rate is a measure of how fast the heart beats per minute (bpm) while standing, sitting, or lying down — but not sleeping — and best measured first thing in the morning. The average adult will have an RHR between 60-100 beats per minute, while athletes are likely to rest somewhere between 40-60 bpm. And the lower, the better, as RHR indicates the health of the heart leading to overall longevity, lower risk of heart attack, higher energy levels, metabolic efficiency, and athletic endurance.

What Affects Resting Heart Rate?

1. Regular Exercise. At least 1 hour of sustained aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking, cycling, or jogging) three times per week will help maintain a lower RHR. It’s important that whatever the exercise, it increases heart rate for an extended period of time.

2. Hydration. Staying hydrated helps with blood viscosity and allows the blood to flow through the body more easily, exerting less stress on the heart.

3. Sleep. During consistent, uninterrupted sleep, the body rests, repairs, and recovers. Poor or inconsistent sleep can be a large contributor to elevated RHR, putting stress on the heart.

4. Diet. A balanced diet full of healthy fats and low sodium keeps arteries clear, leading to lower RHR and less work for the heart.

5. Stress. Over the short and long-term, stress can create extra work for the heart, increasing RHR. It’s important to keep stress and anxiety low to maintain a strong RHR.

Why Measure RHR?

As with most body metrics, Resting Heart Rate offers insights into your overall health, indicating general wellbeing as well as potential health risks which can inform your daily lifestyle choices.

For athletes, knowing your RHR as well as your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) can help dictate heart rate based training zones. Spikes in RHR can indicate when overtraining has occurred and an athlete should take a rest day, something else in a training regiment is amiss, or can even indicate an oncoming cold or illness.

How to Lower RHR

It’s important to maintain an active lifestyle with regular aerobic exercise, a balanced diet, regular sleep, and hydration. If RHR is high, these are the first factors to assess. Beyond the basic lifestyle factors, a few other steps can be taken to significantly lower RHR:

1. Alcohol and smoking. Regular drinking and smoking increase stress on the heart and cardiovascular system. Cutting back or eliminating these habits altogether than dramatically reduce RHR.

2. Manage Weight. Maintaining a healthy weight creates increased metabolic and energy efficiency within the body, decreasing strain on the heart and lowering RHR.

3. Meditation. Long, slow breathing can help regulate heart rate and over time works to decrease RHR as well.

Resting Heart Rate is an important measure of overall wellness for both athletes and anyone focused on a healthy lifestyle. At Biostrap, we’re dedicated to putting you in control of your health by delivering accurate metrics so you can track and improve performance and wellbeing.

The Key to Lowering Resting Heart Rate

The Key to Lowering Resting Heart Rate

“The subject of athletics has not been understood until recently; nor has the best method of training been investigated,” Dr. Sargent told a Harvard audience on March 6, 1896. Dr. Sargent seems to be suggesting that everything about athletic training was now settled. 121 years later, however, there is still so much to learn about our amazing bodies, and how to maximize what they can do.

One useful measure is resting heart rate (RHR). A low RHR (along with optimal SpO2) is the hallmark of cardio health. RHR is just what it sounds like, the measure of how many times your heart beats (per minute) when you are at rest. (as opposed to heart rate variability (HRV), which measures the variation between beats.)

You can measure it with wearable tech or kick it old school (2 fingers at the neck) Either way, knowing your baseline RHR will help you monitor progress, and identify problems, before other symptoms emerge.

A normal resting heart rate for adults ranges from 60 to 90. When it comes to RHR, it important to know how to lower resting heart rate. Elite athletes have RHR in the 50s, 40s, even 30s. High RHR is associated with an increase in risk of death. But can you change your RHR? If so, how? And by how much?

How Can You Change Your Resting Heart Rate?

The good news? Yes, you can lower your resting heart rate.

The 3 best ways to reduce your RHR?

  • Exercise
  • Relaxation
  • Sleep

(Need help remembering? Picture yourself riding a bike. (exercise) Your stress melts away. (relaxation) You’re so stress-free you fall into a deep slumber. (sleep.)

Exercise

“It is very possible and even common to lower your resting heart rate through exercise,” says Tyler Spraul, a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Head Trainer at Exercise.com. “The type of exercise is not important, as long as you are challenging your cardiovascular system with your workouts.”

The 4 most Important types of exercise for health include strengthening, stretching, balance, and aerobic exercises. And exercise doesn’t just lower your RHR. Harvard Medical School reminds us that exercise will also ward off depression, enhance your sex life, sharpen your wits, and improve your sleep.

As you train your cardiovascular system,” Spraul explains, “you will increase its efficiency and capacity. What ends up happening is that your heart is able to do more work with less effort (pump more blood throughout your system while requiring less energy and exertion to do so), so your resting heart rate goes down.“

It’s important to find activities you like, and to mix it up, to avoid boredom and make sure you’re working all parts of your body. Interval training (alternating intensive workouts with periods of rest) is an especially effective way to lower your RHR.

Sleep

Sleep is emerging as a new frontier of health, with implications for cardio health, cognition, mood and even mortality. That’s right, a good night’s sleep over time can forestall death.

Disturbed sleep negatively impacts heart health and can increase RHR. Sleep has been shown to promote cardiac health and mood, which in turn has a protective function across all aspects of your health and performance. Sleep also protects against weight gain, which can increase your RHR.

Relax!

Whether we are resting, or stoked with adrenaline during a ‘fight or flight response’, our hearts are in play.

Reduce stress, and your RHR will naturally fall. Increase stress? And it will rise, regardless of sleep and exercise. Stress in teens (measured by parental corporal punishment) was found to increase adolescent resting heart rate variability, while positive parenting helped improve RHR and HRV.

Yet reducing stress is easier said than done.

Some stress is beyond our control. But that makes it even more important to control what we can, and incorporate stress reduction as a daily component of our healthy lifestyle.

These interventions are widely successful to reduce stress.

  • Breathing exercises
  • Exercise (there’s that word again)
  • Higher physical fitness was found to have a protective effect against training distress in collegiate soccer players.
  • Meditation
  • Yoga.
  • A recent study of yoga and children showed yoga practices of even short duration (3 months) can “reduce anxiety status and decreases resting heart rate” by affecting the autonomic nervous system.
  • Nutrition (avoid sugar, caffeine and alcohol)
  • Relaxation Apps

How Quickly and by How Much?

A recent poster on Researchgate asked, “Is it possible to decrease the heart rate by 20 bpm in 6 months” The consensus? Yes, through exercise, but you need to be healthy to start, and work super hard.

G. Filligoi of Sapienza University of Rome recommends the relaxation route: “You can decrease heart rate by respiration exercises, yoga, meditation. I would suggest some self-consciousness approach in order to reduce the anxiety, nervous stress, and similars.

Not everyone agrees it’s possible. “In my opinion,” says Oscar Fabregat-Andrés of MED Hospitales, “it is not possible to modulate baseline heart rate in such magnitude, because although exercise is able to regulate autonomic system, "vagal tone" necessary to reach this rate is not performed in 6 months.”

Does Lowering your RHR Make you Healthy?

If a low RHR is a sign of health, does that mean lowering your RHR automatically makes you healthy? No, but it’s evidence you’re on the right track. Measuring RHR is a safe, non-intrusive way to track the success of your fitness regime, and spot trouble early.

“A low resting heart rate doesn't necessarily lead to better health in and of itself,” says Spraul, “but it can be used more as an indicator of the effectiveness of your training methods.”

This effectiveness can be positive, or not. “If you are doing workouts that challenge your cardiovascular system and your resting heart rate decreases over time,” he says, “that is a good sign that you are doing the right things.” But it’s important to measure it regularly, even, especially, if you are training hard. An unexpectedly elevated RHR can be a sign of overtraining. “Sometimes the resting heart rate can actually increase,” Spraul cautions, “which is a sign that you have over-stressed your body's systems and may need to focus on better recovery or

Back to the Basics

Back in 1896, Dr. Sargent wasn’t so far off the mark. “The modern idea of training,” he told his Harvard audience, “is to seek things “which will contribute to health and strength: diet, sleep, bathing, proper clothing and exercise.” “Exercise with energy,” he concluded, “to stimulate the heart and lungs and increase respiration and circulation.” Some things never change.

Exercise stimulates the heart, in a good way. And RHR is a key measure of how well it works.

Heart Rate Variability: What You Need To Know

Heart Rate Variability: What You Need To Know

Each time our heart beats we live a little longer. 

There is no better measure of our overall mortality than heart health.  And there are few better indicators of heart health than heart rate variability (HRV).  

Heart rate variability is the interval between heartbeats—the duration of the R–R interval—and how those intervals vary over time. If your heartbeats were doughnuts, then the interval between each beat would be the doughnut hole. Are each of these doughnut holes the same size? Or are some larger than others? Smaller? The measure of these ‘doughnut holes’, and how they compare in size to the ones that precede or follow them, is the measure of heart rate variability.

A variable heart rate is a normal, health response to changes in our bodies and environment including breathing, exercise, stress, blood flow, and any metabolic changes. The measure of HRV has emerged as a key tool to measure health and the viability of health interventions over time.

Pulse rates have been observed and studied since ancient Greece. In 1707 a “Physician’s Pulse Watch” was invented that could accurately measure changes in pulse. 1898 brought the electrocardiogram (ECG) which can measure fluctuations in milliseconds. In 1965 doctors discovered they could predict fetal distress by observing reduced changes in beat-to-beat variation, even before measurable changes in  heart rate occurred.

The digital revolution of the late 20th century expedited advances in the science of cardio measurement, culminating in today’s affordable wearable tech.  The advance of wearable tech has brought non-invasive measurement of heart rate variability into the home, into the gym. But what are the benefits of measuring HRV? What are the advantages and implications for health, well-being, and training peak athletic performance?

The reason we care about HRV is that the more responsive our heart is to changes in our environment the better equipped we are to survive.

It’s counterintuitive. One might think that the steadier the heartbeat and the more fixed the intervals,  the better off we are.  But HRV is an indicator of a flexible, resilient heart. A healthy heart at rest actually has greater variability.

How it works

Healthy people at rest have normal periodic variation in heartbeat intervals. Reduced HRV is a marker of reduced vagal activity and waning health.

Allostasis is our bodies’ response to stress and the method by which we return to balance or homeostasis. HRV is a marker of robust allostasis, our bodies’ ability to bounce back.

Over time, repeated stressors increase our allostatic load and can diminish our health.  Allostatic Load has been called the ‘wear and tear’ on the body over time.

What is normal?

How can we measure HRV, and when should we be worried?  What IS normal when it comes to our heart?  There is currently no standardized scale of normalcy for HRV.  And  as with resting heart rate (BPM) or blood pressure, demographics impact what’s ’normal’.

HRV also naturally decreases with age, perhaps a function of allostatic load or perhaps just a reflection of wear and tear. The resting heart (beats per minute) remains the same but HRV analysis shows diminished variability.  

What affects HRV?

HRV is sensitive to acute stress, including daily work stress such as making complex decisions, or public speaking.  Daily worry, lingering impact of PTSD, medication all can decrease HRV. So can stress or illness.

The beauty of our bodies is that our most essential functions, breathing, heartbeat, blood flow, digestion, take no thought whatsoever. Our autonomic nervous system (ANS) controls our breathing, our heartbeat, our digestion, without our lifting a finger. NS  is comprised of two independent systems, the sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight response) and our parasympathetic nervous system which occurs at rest.  These two systems work together to help us attain homeostasis ( balance)  It’s an elaborately choreographed danced wherein each part of the whole functions, or malfunctions, together. HRV is a function of the parasympathetic system.

Even when our heart rate appears steady there can be considerable variance between each beat.

Consider two individuals each at rest with a heart rate of 60 beats per minute. They would appear of comparable health.  But an assessment of their HRV might show two very different stories.  

Take two streams of equal breadth, each with ten rocks across it. The rocks are heartbeats. In stream A the rocks are equally spaced. In stream B the rocks are uneven. The first few rocks are close together. There’s a wider gap between rocks 3 and 4.  An especially large gap between 8 and 9.  Each stream has ten equal rocks, ten equal heartbeats. But the intervals between rocks vary.  Such is the measure of HRV. Although their heart rate per minute is the same, their contrasting HRV point to very different survival outcomes over time.

HRV measurement can be a significant tool in ongoing health and athletic performance. It has also been linked to better foods, reactions, and cognitive functions.  Changes in HRV can assess health interventions such as diet, exercise, sleep hygiene and biofeedback.

The Good News

Optimal HRV is associated with positive outcomes across all measures of health and well-being.

The benefits aren’t merely physical, but extend to executive functioning including attention, concentration, and working memory.

The good news? There are multiple research-based  interventions which can increase our HRV.

Can we increase or bolster our HRV?

The exact mechanisms of how exercise modifies HRV are unknown, but one needn’t understand the cause to get the benefit of the effect.

Exercise increased HRV in healthy people and regular exercise has been shown to slow aging and raise HRV, perhaps by increasing vagal tone.

Vagal tone impacts heart health and can be improved. Vagal health reduces resting heart rate, which decreases how hard the heart has to work how much oxygen is it has to use. HRV is one measure of vagal health.  

Thought initially developed to assess cardio health, HRV is a burgeoning field of research. It’s implications have been studied across heart patients, schizophrenics, firefighters, soldiers, the concussed, elite athletes; HRV’s been used to quantify compassion and to determine if motor vehicle patient could survive an airlift to a trauma center.  HRV biofeedback is an emerging treatment for sports and military-related concussion. It’s also being used to study self-regulation and biobehavior, the relationship between biology and behavior. It’s being used to foster peak performance in athletes and modulate depression and anxiety.

Wearable tech doesn’t take the place of a health provider and we can’t carry a cardiologist in our pocket. But it can augment treatment between visits with a valuable tool to lead our best healthiest lives.

5 Best Pre Workouts to REALLY Improve Your Strength Training

5 Best Pre Workouts to REALLY Improve Your Strength Training

Here's an outrageous claim:

“Transform yourself into a hunky man of steel! Or a goddess of gorgeous glutes! Imagine what it would be like to be desired by the girl/guy you want. Be the envy of your friends, coworkers, family, and everyone you’ll ever meet.”

The supplement industry bombards you with ridiculous promises using flashy and hardcore lingo. While these claims are questionable, there are scientifically proven benefits of supplementing your fitness routine with a pre workout.

We all have rough days. A slow, sluggish morning. An afternoon with a dozen things to check off your to-do list. A restless night of tosses & turns. 

All of these can hinder your workout.

Sometimes, all you need is a little boost to get you through that next set of deadlifts or barbell curls. The easy solution is to take a pre workout. Why, you ask? Well here are just a few of the benefits:

  1. Energy to lift heavier
  2. Stamina for intense sessions
  3. Mental focus for improved concentration
  4. Fast recovery
  5. Fatigue reduction

So to help take your strength training to the next level, we’ve compiled the 5 best pre workouts that are currently hot for fitness enthusiasts & body builders.

1. MuscleTech Shatter SX-7 Black Onyx

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UNIQUE FEATURE: Contains PEAK ATP

BEST QUALITY: Mental sharpness

DEAL BREAKER: High price point

Adenosine-5’-triophsphate (ATP) supplementation is the new kid on the block you should get to know. It supplies you with direct energy that’s required when lifting heavy weights & performing explosive movements.

2. Beyond Raw LIT

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UNIQUE FEATURE: Yummy flavors (Gummy Worm, Icy Fireworks, Gummy Fish)

BEST QUALITY: Long lasting stamina

DEAL BREAKER: Tingling sensation on your skin. If you’re sensitive or do not like this feeling, this may not be for you.

3. Bucked Up by Das Labs

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UNIQUE FEATURE: Deer Antler Extract — a commonly used substance in eastern medicine. Improves muscle composition, endurance, and strength

BEST QUALITY: Clean & steady energy

DEAL BREAKER: If you’re stimulant resistant, you may need a stronger product. But worry not—they released a high stimulant pre workout a few months back: Woke AF

4. Ghost Legend

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UNIQUE FEATURE: …Has A LOT of taurine. And the packaging looks like Snapchat & Pacman had a lovechild.

BEST QUALITY: Do you have a really high stimulant tolerance? Not if you use this.

DEAL BREAKER: Not for people with cardiac conditions.

5. Athena Intense Pre Workout For Women

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UNIQUE FEATURE: Pre workout for WOMEN!

BEST QUALITY: Includes branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and is Creatine free—many women avoid creatine because of the bloat effect

DEAL BREAKER: May not appeal to men

Are you a boss-lady who doesn’t shy away from heavy bar bells or pumping weights? Then this pre workout is a must try! To all women who want to achieve their dream bodies: strength train!

So how do you know if a pre workout is effective & giving you better results?

Track your progress. While a pen and paper method may suffice, this archaic method interferes with one of the main reasons you may be taking a pre workout in the first place: concentration & focus.

Wearable tech streamlines tracking and recording your movements & lifts. Make your fitness journey easy. When you wear BioStrap, it handles your tracking, while you focus on the heavy lifting. You & BioStrap—an undefeatable power duo.

Disclaimer

The top 5 best pre workouts were chosen based on their unique factor, value, clean ingredients (no proprietary blends), and performance quality. Choose a pre workout based on your specific physical needs and goals. Your body will react differently to each ingredient and varying dosages.

Most importantly, a pre workout is a supplement. Don’t take more than the recommended dosage!

...Would you chow down an entire bottle of Vitamin C gummies because it helps support your immune system and tastes like candy? If your answer is yes, it may be best to stay away from pre workouts.

What Is Adrenaline and how does it work in our bodies

What Is Adrenaline and how does it work in our bodies

If you’ve ever seen Pulp Fiction you’ll likely not forget the scene where Uma Thurman’s overdose is reversed with a shot of adrenaline to the heart; wide-eyed, she bolts upright with a gasp.

“I’m an adrenaline junkie,” people say, as they thrill-seek their way across the globe, bungee jumping, diving off cliffs, swimming with sharks.  Drawn to danger, they revel in that heart-in-your-throat, blood pumping feeling.  Not everyone shares their enthusiasm.  But what is adrenaline, exactly? And what does it do?

What is Adrenaline?  

One of the most interesting things about adrenaline,” says Baltimore endocrinologist Mansur Shimali, “is that it can be both a hormone, and a neurotransmitter.

Adrenaline, also known as epinephrine, is our “fight-or-flight” hormone”, says Michael R. Rickels of University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.  “It increases heart rate and contractility in order to get our blood pumping and oxygen to our muscles and brain under conditions of physiologic stress, and will help to maintain blood pressure during blood loss or dehydration.” 

Adrenaline is a survival hormone.  It helps us be fast or strong under threat.  When humans encounter danger, we have two options: fight off the predator, or run for the hills. Each of these responses requires muscle strength.  When our amygdala senses danger, it reaches out to the hypothalamus,  Adrenaline then triggers the physiological changes our body will need to attack, defend, or run away.  Even before we react, or choose a course of action, our heart is already rushing oxygenated blood to our muscles, so we’ll be ready.

On your mark, get set, Go!

In early humans, adrenaline provided a survival mechanism to fight off foes, and win competition for food, land or mates. But the adrenaline response is not limited to predator danger.

At the start of a sprint, as runners hear, “On your mark!  Get set!”, they crouch, ready to run.  Their hearts race. Their muscles twitch. Adrenaline is coursing through their blood, ensuring that when they hear the command “Go!” they are prepared to race for their lives (or at least a medal). Adrenaline powers our performance whether the external stressor is unexpected (a pouncing tiger), sought-after (hang-gliding) or self-imposed (athletic competitions or haunted houses).

Effects of Adrenaline?

The immediate impact of an adrenaline surge:

  • Eyes dilate.
  • Heart beats faster.
  • Sweat increases.
  • Bronchioles dilate (so we can get more oxygen).
  • Blood vessels dilate (enlarge) in our muscles.
  • Blood vessels constrict in our digestive tract to slow digestion.
  • Kidneys make more renin (to increase blood pressure).
  • Glucose production  increases, for energy.

Each of these responses is tailored to focus the body’s resources on survival.

Where does adrenaline come from?

Adrenaline is a creation of the nervous system.  

The human nervous system is divided into two sections:

  • central nervous system
  • peripheral nervous system

The peripheral nervous system has two sub systems:

  • somatic nervous system (our voluntary movements).
  • autonomic nervous system (unconscious operation of  heart, digestion and breathing).

The autonomic nervous system has three components:

  • sympathetic (stimulates ‘fight or flight’).
  • parasympathetic (“breed and feed” or ‘rest and digest’).
  • Enteric (“second brain”).

Sympathetic Nervous System (Fight or Flight)

Our sympathetic nervous system is the center of our ‘fight or flight’ response, that ancient reaction to danger which enabled our ancestors to outrun, outmaneuver and outsmart predators.

The sympathetic nervous system is always mildly activated, ready. It manages stress, and returns the body to homeostasis, through the activation (or inactivation) of the adrenal gland.

Adrenal Gland

Adrenaline is manufactured within our adrenal glands. There are two.

Each adrenal gland sits atop a kidney. (The word adrenal literally means at (ad) the kidney (renal).  

The adrenal gland has two sections.

  • Adrenal cortex (outer portion)
  • Adrenal medulla (inner portion)

The adrenal cortex produces cortisol (another stress hormone), which regulates metabolism.  Aldosterone, which helps control blood pressure, is also secreted here.

The adrenal medulla.  It’s here that adrenaline (a catecholamine:) is generated to help you fight  tigers, or meet that deadline. Unlike the adrenal cortex, the adrenal medulla is not essential to human life.  The adrenal medulla connects to the sympathetic nervous system via a sympathoadrenal system that regulates the stress response.

Adrenaline and Diabetes

But adrenaline is more than a spur to physical exertion.  “Adrenal hormones also regulate salt and water balance in the human body,“  says Dr. Shimali, “They do that by signalling to the kidneys.”  

 “Adrenaline also affects metabolism”, says Dr. Rickels, “releasing fatty acids from fat tissue that our muscles can burn, and releasing glucose from our liver that on which our brain depends, and so helps to maintain blood glucose levels during prolonged fasting or periods of famine.

This is especially significant for diabetics. “Adrenaline features prominently in the defense against low blood glucose (hypoglycemia)”, says Dr. Rickels, “and is thus critical for patients with insulin-dependent diabetes to help them avoid severe insulin reactions that can result in loss-of-consciousness, or seizures.”

Other health applications

But there are medical applications as well. Supplemental adrenaline is used widely, for a variety of reasons, in sometimes unexpected ways.  Did you ever sit in the dentist’s chair, lip puffy with novocaine, heart pounding as the dentist approached you with a drill?  It might not be your fear itself, making your heart pound. Dentists add epinephrine (adrenaline) to novocaine, to staunch bleeding and make the the effects last longer.

Adrenaline (epinephrine) has also saved countless lives by reversing anaphylactic shock from allergic reactions. It restarts hearts after cardiac arrest.  It is used daily to ease breathing in  asthmatics or children with croup.  It reverses blood pressure due to blood loss.  Spikes in adrenaline have also been linked to early morning cardiac events. Adrenaline even plays a role in our circadian rhythm  Despite this significant impact on medicine, no Nobel Prize was ever awarded in connection with adrenaline’s discovery.

It’s a hormone. It’s a neurotransmitter. It’s a life-saving intervention. It’s a blast! For something deemed ‘non-essential to human life, adrenaline certainly has a key role to play in our physical performance, stress mediation, and the quality of our life.

So when confronted with danger, whether we decide to fight or run, the physiological changes are the same. Cowards and warriors alike have adrenaline to thank for fueling choices made in an instant. And that adrenaline rush you feel? Some people even pay for that.

SpO2 and how an entire town changed our hearts.

SpO2 and how an entire town changed our hearts.

It was 1948. An epidemic of cardiovascular disease was killing Americans and no one knew why.  The causes of heart disease and stroke were not yet understood. 

The National Heart Institute decided to try to understand the problem.  

What if, they thought, we study an entire town for their entire lives? Find out everything about them. Physical exams.  Habits.  Family histories. Study them before they get sick?  These questions launched into an ambitious, longitudinal study that came to be known as the Framingham Heart Study. Virtually everything you know about heart health today, has its roots in that research.

How long did the study last? Here’s the kicker. It’s still going on.

Back in 1948 when doctors began examining 5209 inhabitants of Framingham, MA, they never could have envisioned that their study, 70 years later, would continue across three generations. Nor could they have imagined that the research tools would now include wearable tech to measure blood oxygenation (spO2) at home.

But that’s what happened.

That’s right, in 1971, the children of the original participants were added, 5124 of them. Then in 2002, the study added a third generation, the grandchildren of the original cohort (and diversified the pool with the addition of Omni participants).

SpO2 as a “feasible, cost-effective measures of sleep

Since its inception, the Framingham Study has identified every factor we know to be implicated in cardio health: smoking, blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, sleep, exercise and apnea. Now this renowned study has turned its attention to next-gen tech, concluding that home measure of spO2 was “feasible, yields reliable results” and calling wearable devices “a convenient alternative to traditional measures of sleep”.

How do we breathe?

The level of oxygen in our blood is a key indicator of overall health. We don’t give it much thought. But what happens when we breathe? The air we breathe at sea level is about 21% oxygen. We extract this oxygen from the air. As oxygenated air enters our lungs, it passes down through our alveoli to the capillaries outside the heart. This oxygen passes into our blood, and we expel carbon dioxide as a waste product.

The role of hemoglobin

Hemoglobin (a protein in the red blood cells) helps move the oxygen into the blood. It’s what makes our blood red. We’ve known that hemoglobin carries oxygen since 1840. Each hemoglobin molecule can carry four oxygen molecules. We measure the level of oxygen in our blood by counting these hemoglobin. Oxygen saturation (also called SpO2 or SaO2) is the amount of oxygenated hemoglobin compared to the total amount of hemoglobin in our blood.

So, what’s normal?

Our heart is a magnificent organ. It takes tired, depleted blood and re-vivifies it, pumping in oxygen. Without this oxygen, you wouldn’t even be able to hold your phone or stay upright in your chair. So what’s normal? A healthy person has an SpO2 (blood oxygenation) of over 95%. Any measure below 90% is serious.

Can it be changed?

Factors that compromise your body's ability to maintain sufficient oxygen levels include internal problems (diseases such as COPD or asthma) and external events like altitude or poor air quality. Some changes are transient, like an infection or pneumonia. Some are permanent. Supplemental oxygen can be used to raise levels in severely oxygen compromised individuals.  Exercise and a healthy lifestyle can increase blood oxygenation for nearly everybody.

Living at high altitude actually changes the composition of your blood, as your body manufactures extra red blood cells to compensate for the lower oxygen levels in the environment. This is why many elite athletes train at altitude.

There are obvious consequences of having too little oxygen in your blood. Lack of energy for example. Shortness of breath. Eventually, without intervention, death. But there are subtle changes too, for example, poor sleep, cognitive deficits, and weight gain.

Sleep Apnea

Some variation in SpO2 is normal, especially as we sleep. During REM sleep, our breathing slows so desaturation (decreased oxygen) is routine. But some changes signify a larger problem. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common sleep disorder that causes interrupted sleep and decreased blood oxygen.

The severity of your sleep apnea is measured as a combination of your AHI (apnea hypopnea index, or how many times you awake per hour). Less than five times an hour is considered minimal or even normal: sufferers of severe apnea awaken more than 30 times per hour. Small wonder they are exhausted. (Between 15 and 30 events is considered moderate, 5 to 15 is deemed mild.)

Oxygen is necessary for life,” says Dr. Neil Kline of the American Sleep Association,Sleep apnea is characterized by repetitive pauses in breathing. When we stop breathing, oxygen does not enter our lungs.” Obesity increases the risk for OSA, explains Dr. Kline, because “with increased weight comes additional neck and throat-area tissue which can obstruct, or block, the flow of air from outside of the body to inside of the body.”

Individuals with untreated OSA run much higher risks of developing hypertension, diabetes, obesity, coronary artery disease and metabolic syndrome,” says Dr. Jeffrey Durmer, MD PhD, Chief Medical Officer of FusionHealth. “The impact of repeated drops in oxygen due to apneas and hypopneas throughout the night includes higher levels of inflammatory hormones (called cytokines and interleukins) as well as cortisol and the dysregulation of glucose metabolism.”

These drops in oxygen are called oxygen desaturation and can be measured by a pulse oximeter. “When you combine these drops in oxygen with the obligate surge in sympathetic nervous system activity (the fight-or-flight response) associated with choking throughout sleep,” says Dr. Durmer, “This is why people suffering with untreated OSA have a 2-5 times higher rate of catastrophic events like stroke, heart attack and heart failure."

New research presented at the 2017 ATS International Conference found that patients with OSA are at a higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation. 

Early identification equals early intervention,” says respiratory therapist turned hospital executive Joe Musto, “If a patient’s SpO2 drops below their ‘normal’ range they can take action, i.e., implement breathing exercises, take any prescribed medication, seek medical attention if necessary.” Knowing what’s “normal” for you is key. That’s why self measure of spO2 at home is such a boon to health.

Then vs. Now

Seventy years ago, cardiovascular disease was the number one cause of mortality, accounting for 1 in 2 U.S. deaths. Yet its causes were so little understood that H.G. Bruenn said “most Americans accepted early death from heart disease as unavoidable.

So much has changed.

Cardiovascular disease is now a leading preventable cause of death. That’s good news! The Framingham Study continues, shedding light on the complicated interplay between genetics, obesity, dementia, sleep, social connectedness, and heart disease. Each new discovery increases our knowledge and, with it, our power. Framingham has spawned countless research-based interventions. Armed with these findings, we are empowered to maximize our health at home.

The Tell-tale Heart: What is a Healthy Resting Heart Rate?

The Tell-tale Heart: What is a Healthy Resting Heart Rate?

Edgar Allan Poe’s 1843 masterpiece “The Tell-tale Heart” describes it as “a low, dull, quick sound—much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton”.  Thump. Thump. Thump.  Like the ground beneath us, our heartbeat is ubiquitous.  We only notice is when it gives way.  But even in the absence of pathology, a resting heart rate is a key measure of health, telling much about who, and how healthy, we are.

Resting heart rate

Our hearts beat slowest when we are at rest. The number of beats per minute when a body is still called your resting heart rate (RHR). This is the optimal measure risk factor for cardiovascular mortality, doctors recommend it be measured often. An increase of 20 beats per minute is associated with heightened mortality (risk of death), even within the normal range.  

The normal range is 60 to 100 beats per minute.  Unless you are an elite athlete, an RHR of less than 60 beats (bradycardia) can signify a serious health condition. Beats over 100 (up to 400 beats per minute) are called tachycardia. This can also be serious.  

Our RHR is regulated by the sinus node, which generates electrical impulses to regulate our heart. Regular exercise improves the heart’s efficiency.  Superbly conditioned individuals have lower RHR, usually 40 to 60 beats per minute (BPM). Tour de France cyclist Miguel Indurain had a measured RHR of 28 beats per minute, although even that is not the world record.

Factors that affect RHR

Numerous factors affect RHR, which is why regular measurement is key. Fitness, activity, gender, age, size, disease, and stress can impact your RHR, as will transient circumstances such as room temperature, body position, medications or caffeine.  Recent research shows heart rate also has a genetic component.

Measuring your resting heart rate

Traditionally the amateur athlete or health enthusiast measured his heart beat with two fingers and simple math. Wearables like Biostrap now enables us to get accurate easy accountings of our RHR over time. This lets us track the impact of our health, including the relative success of exercise or other interventions we’ve undertaken. 

French mathematician Blaise Pascal said, “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.”  From a biological perspective, that’s no longer true. Health researchers now have an increased understanding of what a healthy heart looks, sounds and acts like. And the more we learn, the more we understand that RHR is a fundamental marker of health that we can, and should measure at home.

Too Much Bed, Not Enough Sleep?

Too Much Bed, Not Enough Sleep?

How our sleep changes with age & tips to fix it.

It’s a cold hard fact: we sleep a third of our life away. That’s right, most of us can expect to spend 25 plus years of our life in unfettered slumber. But when was the last time you had a solid eight hours? The length, timing and quality of our sleep changes with age.

Have you ever carried a sleeping child from the car to the house? Did they waken? Probably not. Slumped, unmindful, they doze solidly as you clamber up the stairs. The expression ‘sleep like a child’ conveys this deep, untroubled state.  But sleep changes with age.

Pediatric sleep expert Jodi Mindell Chairs the Pediatric Sleep Council Board of Directors.  Dr. Mindell explains, “There are major changes in sleep from newborns to late in life, with differences in sleep amounts, how sleep is distributed across the day, and sleep architecture.” Although there are commonalities, each group must be studied differently.

Babies aren’t born with an ‘adult’ circadian rhythm-based sleep cycle. The circadian rhythm for sleep only emerges 4 to 8 weeks after birth. Babies gradually begin to sleep more at night than day. At 12 weeks, babies sleep mostly at night and only nap during the day. By 6 months, the sleep phases and circadian rhythms of infants resemble those of adults.

Healthy sleep

Measures of healthy sleep include:

1. Sleep latency: how long it takes us to fall asleep.

2. Sleep stages: as measured by brain waves, and the relative time we spend in each stage.

  • non-REM sleep, includes stages 1, 2, and 3 (delta wave or deep sleep. Also called slow wave sleep (SWS).
  • REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.

3. Wake after sleep onset (WASO) or sleep fragmentation: how often we wake after falling asleep.

4. Total sleep time (TST): the total of all REM and NREM sleep.

5. Sleep efficiency: the ratio of total sleep time to time spent in bed.

As We Age

As we age, our circadian rhythms shift.  We go to sleep earlier whether we want to or not.  The average bedtime for adults aged 18 to 29 is 12:38am. By age 64, it plummets to 10:38pm. This advanced sleep phase syndrome means older people tend to become sleepier in the early evening and wake earlier in the morning, as compared to younger adults.  

It’s not that older adults need less sleep. The need for sleep remains constant with age. But as we age our "sleep architecture" (patterns of sleep) shifts. After age 50, “The amplitude of our brain waves changes,” explains Board-certified Anesthesiologist Alex Roher M.D. ”To be classified as deep, restful, restorative sleep, brain waves have to reach a certain height, and after age 50, the spikes simply don't get as high. That lighter sleep means you become a lot easier to wake up in the middle of the night.

The National Sleep Foundation identifies specific aspects of sleep that change with age:

  • REM declines as a percentage of sleep
  • Total sleep (TST) decreases.
  • Deep sleep decreases.
  • Waso increases (sleep fragmentation, waking frequently through the night).

Sleep efficiency continues to decrease after 60.  There is an increase of sleep disorders with age, including apnea and insomnia. But research indicates that many age-related sleep changes are not caused by the aging process itself, but by physical and mental disorders that may accompany aging, and the medications used to treat them.

Impact of Poor Sleep

As we age, we have more medical problems, some chronic. People with poor health have more trouble sleeping.

Sleep deprivation causes cognitive decline, memory and attention problems, and slows response time. These symptoms can mimic dementia in the elderly, leading to misdiagnosis. Sleep deprivation -- and the medications used to treat it -- also increases the risk of falls.

Sleep deprivation has also been linked to weight gain in both toddlers and adults as we expend more energy and then eat more to compensate.

Sleep Hygiene

Although some changes of sleep quality over time are inevitable, basic common sense steps can help improve our slumber.  Sleep hygiene is the practice of changing our behavior and environment to promote sleep.

  • Track your sleep. Wearable tech helps us analyze our sleep
  • Same time. Going to bed and waking on a consistent schedule promotes sleep.
  • Exercise.  Physically tired people sleep better. But don’t exercise right before bed.
  • Avoid caffeine and late drinking. (Alcohol causes early wakening.)
  • Nap judiciously. 30 minutes can restore energy but too much compromises our night sleep.
  • Reduce stress.  
  • Turn off the light. A dark, quiet, uncluttered space facilitates deep sleep.

On the Horizon

Sleep is essential to health. In hospice, the sleep patterns of the near-dying return to those of infants. Long periods of sleep are punctuated by occasional bursts of wakefulness. But until our last days, the power to improve our sleep—and through it our health—is within our control.  The science of sleep continues to enlarge  our understanding, bringing with it  innovative research-based interventions including apps, medication, virtual reality, medicine, technology, even biotech implants.  The future for a good night’s sleep is bright.

After all, if we’re fated to spend a third of our life asleep: let’s make it a good one.

Using A Fitness Tracker for Targeted Workouts

Using A Fitness Tracker for Targeted Workouts

Elite athletes and trainers monitor their training stats with hawk-like accuracy and they reap the benefits. Whether you’re simply aiming for a healthier lifestyle or training for a triathlon, it’s important to track where you are and where you’re going in your fitness journey.

Before assessing the practical and technical benefits of activity monitoring, it’s beneficial to first understand the psychology behind workout tracking. The key elements to consider are measurement and motivation.

First, the more activity you consistently measure, the more you begin to look at your daily routine in terms of activity and making healthy choices. Suddenly, the benefits of yard work, taking the stairs, or walking the dog an extra few blocks become clear. This shift in thinking generates a new perspective and increased motivation, which leads to overall better choices and improved healthy lifestyle. From here, the brain triggers increased motivation and goal-setting on a consistent basis; your number of steps and or minutes of daily activity naturally become more important to you.  

Biostrap uses highly sensitive activity classification monitors to pinpoint and isolate individual exercises and deliver valuable feedback for each, including reps, duration, percentage of active time, calories burned, consistency over time, and even cadence and revolutions for cardio workouts. This data, paired with biometrics taken daily and post-workout, offer a holistic picture which informs fitness goals and overall health.

Live Long and Prosper: 5 ways to age in place and how wearable tech can help.

Live Long and Prosper: 5 ways to age in place and how wearable tech can help.

Baby boomers have begun turning 70. That’s right, the endlessly young, don’t-trust-anyone-over-30 youth counter culture is now aging. And, if they’re lucky, aging in place. Aging in place is a term for remaining in one’s own home, living on one’s own, for as long as possible, with maximum independence and health.

At no other point in human history have so many people lived so long, and so well. Advances in hygiene and medicine have increased life expectancy: the average 65-year-old woman can expect to live until 88.6 (86.6 for men). 25% of them will live past 90. But what about the quality of those years?

Aging in place

The 2017 Market Overview Technology for Aging in Place reports:

  • More than 80% of older Americans live at home.  
  • Almost half of those >75 live alone.

As they age, this group will get more of their health care at home.

  • Rising health costs make other options cost-prohibitive.
  • The majority of baby boomers haven’t saved enough for assisted living.
  • Increased life expectancy engenders a longer end of life health arc.
  • People are living so long that their caregiver children are themselves aging.

Tech solutions like wearables could help promote optimal aging in place.  But are they being sufficiently used?

In 2016, the AARP began asking its members about wearable tech use. The results? Just 11% of people over 50 own a wearable device.  (19% of 50+ year olds, 10% of 60+, and just 3% of those over 70.) Women and men were equally likely to use the devices.

Although older Americans are embracing personal technology, their adoption rate for wearables has lagged behind that of smartphones and computers. This leaves an untapped capacity: 89% of people over 50 can improve their health with wearable tech. But the devices are only useful if they are actually being used.

What do the experts say?

To maximize use, makers of wearable tech and robotics must avoid ‘design intoxication’, and give adequate weight to user experience—especially for aging populations that may be tech-trepidatious.  In other words, make tech easy to use and understand, especially for people whose dexterity and vision may be waning. We asked two industry thought leaders to weigh in on opportunities and challenges.

Josh Koplin co-founded Humanistic Robotics, a robotics company at the forefront of human-machine collaboration. Koplin says humanoid robotics and wearables are a key to helping seniors age in place. 

“If you think of the problems seniors face, as far as having good companions, caretakers, and a sense of someone around to monitor and keep them active, you've got a massive opportunity that there simply are not enough people or money for.” New  technology, per Koplin, can “stave off loneliness, and even serve as a portal for their children and grandchildren.

Harpreet Singh, Founder and Co-CEO of Experfy outlines how big data can help ameliorate health challenges:  

According to analysis by United Health Foundation, the next generation of senior citizens will be sicker and costlier to the health care system over the next 14 years than previous generations. Big Data can play a pivotal role in helping find cures to many diseases through personalization of medicine.  As efficacy of medicine increases, personalization will also help lower costs of treatment for some of the most preventable diseases among Boomers such as Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease.  This, however, requires research  and investment  in genomics, big data computing and data science training.

Singh notes wearable tech adoption by those over 50 is already underway:  

We see blood pressure monitors being displaced by wearable tech.  We see bluetooth connected hearing aid devices providing better listening experience when it comes to making phone calls and listening to music.  There is also a growing intersection of wearables with analytics enabling big dataanalysts to solve real-world intractable problems related to healthcare.

Caregivers

It’s not just baby boomers who are embracing technology. The people who care for them are hungry for solutions too. You know what older folk want? Privacy! Independence. You know what their grown children want? Peace of mind. Wearable tech may be the happy compromise.

A recent AARP survey concluded that “Technology holds great promise for helping to reduce the complexities, stress, and sheer hard work for caregivers.”  67 percent of caregivers say health monitoring devices could lighten their load, but only a fraction are actually using them.

Five steps to successfully Age in Place

Folks are living longer than ever, and the accuracy and efficacy of wearable tech has advanced exponentially. The collision between these two trends will increasingly allow baby boomers to age in place, independently and vibrantly.   

The sky’s the limit! But it will not happen magically: it requires effort and planning on our part.

Embrace these 5 ideas now if you aim to age in place:

  1. Stay healthy. Get in in shape and stay in shape.
  2. Senior-proof your house. Only 1% of current homes are adequately set up for aging. Homes need to be flatter, simpler, brighter and wider.
  3. Plan early, before you need to. Now is the best time to strategize and invest. This helps keep your options open.
  4. Get your geek on. Technology fosters health and independence.  The Journals of Gerontology published a recent study assessing the impact of wearable tech (specifically, an accelerometer measuring gross motor activity throughout the day). The subjects were elderly men already enrolled in an existing osteoporosis study.(Osteoporotic Fractures in Men).  Preliminary results indicate a correlation between measured activity, sleep, cognition, and mortality.  Baseline measurements of vitals signs such as resting heart rate and oxygen saturation enable people to identify health issues while they are still fixable.
  5. Save your money. Sure, technology is becoming ever more affordable, and aging in place is more cost effective than assisted living or nursing care. But it's still not free: a  financial advisor can help you develop a realistic plan.
“You don't have to get old.

Expansions in life expectancy have made possible a life our ancestors could never envision. Advances in technology, healthcare and robotics have expanded the potential quality of this penultimate phase of our lives. We just need to take control.

In the words of immortal comedian George Burns, “You can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old.

Can Wearable Tech Help Assess Fertility?

Can Wearable Tech Help Assess Fertility?

Other than survival itself, there is no greater biological imperative than reproduction. That’s why our sex drive is so powerful. The human body is designed to facilitate fertility.

Our very perception of beauty arises from our subliminal expectations of what fertility looks like. And it looks like health. Rested. Calm. Vital.

But what are the quantifiable measures of fertility, and how can we use them?

People measure fertility for one of two reasons: either they want to become pregnant, or they emphatically do not want to become pregnant. Either way, the science is the same. Has wearable tech added a new tool to the fertility arsenal? New research suggests it has.

Where do babies come from?

Every woman is born with an intact lifetime supply of eggs. After puberty, healthy women become fertile for a few days each month. A mature egg is released every 28 days or so  (ovulation). If the egg is successfully fertilized by male sperm, she becomes pregnant. If the egg is not fertilized, 14 days later it is expelled, along with the uterine lining, through menstruation.  Then the cycle begins anew.

Ovulation (the period of heightened fertility) lasts 3 days (although women can and do become pregnant at other times in the cycle). Recognizing ovulation is the key to reproductive control.  But it can be difficult to pinpoint ovulation, especially in women whose cycles are irregular. Wearable tech may be a game changer. The growing power to measure multiple physiological changes at home, with accuracy, has boosted our ability to monitor fertility outside of a healthcare setting.

How can you tell?

The typical fertility cycle is divided into the follicular phases and the luteal (post-ovulation) phases.  Some women have classic 28 day cycles and ovulate like clockwork, others have cycles of varying length and complexity: the components are the same. Hormonal changes cause the uterine lining to thicken and a mature egg to be released into the fallopian tube. But measuring the levels of estrogen, progesterone and luteinizing hormone in blood or urine is not yet affordable or practical outside of a laboratory setting.

Most women learn to assess their cycle through personal observation of non-hormonal changes, over time, using their eyes, their instinct, and a calendar.  As ovulation approaches cervical mucus increases. Some women experience a pain on one side of the abdomen (mittelschmerz, German for middle pain) as the egg is released. But these signals can be subjective, variable, and inherently difficult to quantify.

The traditional ‘scientific’ at-home fertility measure has been basal body temperature (BBT).  As women move through their standard 28 day cycle their temperature spikes as they begin to ovulate.  But temperature can be affected by illness or exertion.

New research points to fluctuations in heart rate and sleep as additional measures of fertility -- both of which can be calculated at home with wearable tech.

Changes in estrogen and progesterone levels impact the cardiovascular system: there is a considerable uptick in pulse rate during ovulation. This change in heart rate as a predictor of fertility holds true even for women with irregular, highly variable cycles—a group that can especially benefit, given historical difficulties in measuring their fertility with standard means.  Wearable tech has now sophisticated the assessment of these other changes that help mark ovulation.

What about sleep?

Circadian rhythms impact menstruation, and menstruation affects our circadian rhythms.  Disruptions in sleep and circadian rhythms has been linked to decreased fertility and compromised health. Scientific studies are underway to research whether enhanced sleep can improve outcomes in women undergoing in vitro fertilization and on how stress and sleep disturbances might impact fertility. But there is no question that a good night’s sleep fosters health.

Beyond sperm count

It’s not just women who can benefit from tracking physiological markers. Recent research on male fertility have implicated diet, oxidative stress, heat stress, intense exercise, moderate exercise, sleep deprivation and even late bedtime as drivers of male fertility. Wearable tech that enables men to measure sleep, activity, pulse and temperature may find themselves ahead of the curve when they decide it’s time to reproduce. Our fertility depends on our health.  Wearable tech keeps us healthy by tracking physiological changes with ease.

Don’t stress about it

For both men and women, stress is linked to reproductive health. Taking ownership of fertility tracking can actually ameliorate stress that might compromise your health or fertility.

It’s complicated

For something so central to our lives and our designs as humans, not every aspect of reproduction is understood. New factors continue to emerge: A recent study found that a gene linked to coronary heart disease (and present in Egyptian mummies) has persisted in humans because it confers a reproductive advantage in both men and women. Another study discovered that mice who ‘smoke’ (exposed to cigarettes) compromise the fertility of not only their children but their grandchildren.

The nuanced of mechanics of fertility (beyond ‘the birds and the bees’) are still unfolding. So the more we learn about physiological markers of fertility, the better we can leverage wearable tech -- and the specific knowledge about our bodies they help us collect.

For women who are trying to conceive, tech assisted fertility awareness helps them time intercourse to get pregnant quicker. For those women who want to remain sexually active without pregnancy, tech-assisted fertility awareness has proven as effective as hormonal contraception (‘the pill’) in avoiding pregnancy.

Either way, when it comes to fertility awareness, 18th century genius Benjamin Franklin’s quote remains apt: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” Fortunately, today’s wearable tech offers us planning tools even the inventive Franklin could only have dreamt of.

The Lost City of Zzzzz: Is Sleep the New Miracle Cure?

The Lost City of Zzzzz: Is Sleep the New Miracle Cure?

What if science discovered a way to become stronger, smarter, healthier, more productive and better looking—for free? One that required no effort on our part? So easy you could do it in your sleep? Well accumulating research suggests there is one: that sleep itself is the new miracle cure. No human function offers more benefit, for less effort.

Benefits of a Good Night’s Sleep

Sure, it feels good. A solid night’s rest is the ultimate reset button. But what does it do? We may not be awake to see it, but sleep is where the heavy-lifting happens, the essential operations that maintain our physical, mental, and cognitive health.

What Happens When we Sleep?

Science’s understanding of sleep is still unfolding, but growing research shows sleep’s significance across every measure of health and wellness.  Studies of fruit flies, NCAA collegiate athletes, medical residents and shift workers confirm sleep’s key role. Sleep keeps our weight stable, makes us stronger, cements our memories, helps children grow, releases hormones. Sleep helps repair our cells. improve our mood, and bolsters our immune system.

How Much is Enough?

Do we all need the same amount of sleep? No, it varies from person to person, and some folk are more vulnerable to sleep loss than others.. But knowing how much sleep you need, and regulating how much you get, is an essential goal. Taking ownership of our sleep hygiene, measuring the quantity and quality of our sleep, creates  a healthy biofeedback loop that encourages progress and maximizes our health.

Sleep Deprivation

But If sleep is so good for you, then why are so many sleeping so poorly? More than half of American adults complain of insufficient sleep. And the cost of skipping sleep is steep. 

The impact of sleep deprivation is so deleterious that Guinness will no longer recognize World Records entries in that category.

How long can humans go without sleeping? Longer than you think. In 1959 New York DJ Peter Tripp decided to stay awake for 200 consecutive hours as a charity stunt for the March of Dimes. To publicize his feat he broadcasted from a glass booth in Times Square.  His deterioration was medically observed and photographed. By the 5th day Peter Tripp looked  day Peter Tripp looked  looked  day Peter Tripp looked "slightly crazed" and had begun to hallucinate.

Peter Tripp broadcasting his sleep experiment.

In 1964 Randy Gardner stayed awake 11 days for a high school science experiment. Gardner still holds the 264 hour title: not because no one has stayed awake longer (they have) but because Guinness refuses to accept additional entries, because of the health dangers.

What happens when we don't sleep? Every aspect of our functioning is affected. Physical: Hand-eye coordination diminishes. Reaction time slows. Some studies show sleep impaired driving is as dangerous as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. People gain weight.. Cognitive function declines, including memory and focus. Mood is impacted: people are less sociable, negative emotions increase, including depression and anxiety. Positive emotions are comprised, e.g., optimism, resilience, and empathy.

The impact reaches beyond ourselves: Sleep deprivation makes us more likely to quarrel with our partners , and makes other people question our attractiveness and health, When fruit flies were isolated socially they slept less—the lack of sleep led to measurable stresses on a cellular level.

The effect of sleep deprivation is so destabilizing it’s been used to torture solders.  Rats deprived of REM sleep develop a debilitated appearance with skin lesions then die.. Unlike rats, humans do not generally die from sleep deprivation. Our bodies have evolved to protect us. We literally force ourselves to sleep before we reach the point of collapse.

How Does It Work?

Neurotransmitters act on neurons to make us sleep. Our sleep/wake cycle is determined by the balance between Process S (homeostatic) and Process C (circadian). There are 5 stages of sleep, including the most widely known REM. Each cycle takes 90 - 110 minutes and then begins again.

Our understanding of the neuro-mechanics of sleep is still evolving. Theories include exercise (our brains workout while we sleep, strengthening synapses) and house cleaning (we flush out toxic waste via the glymphatic system.)

As we stay awake past our bedtime, sleep pressure builds. The longer we are awake the more we need to sleep. When deprived of sleep our bodies will microsleep, taking little time-outs that we may not even recognize as sleep.

Making Fitness A Habit

Making Fitness A Habit

Whether you’re a CEO or a full-time student, it’s a daily challenge to find time for your health alongside professional and social responsibilities. The average American works 47 hours a week, or six days, leaving little time for the gym, but it’s vital to maintain a healthy lifestyle even when you can’t make it the gym or fitness classes.

The essential components of a healthy lifestyle include physical activity, balanced nutrition, socialization, and mental wellness. It’s necessary to maintain each aspect in order to feel your best, but holistic maintenance takes work.

Stay Active

Consistent physical activity is important in maintaining overall health and mental well being while also reducing the risk of many chronic illnesses. It is recommended adults get 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity with some muscle strengthening activities at least two days a week. Brisk walking, jogging, or even biking are all aerobic activity which will increase your Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and blood oxygen levels. High HRV increases the parasympathetic response, which promotes relaxation, digestion, sleep, and recovery.

Instead of spending hours on the treadmill or in spin class, try walking to grab coffee and lunch, or even to pick up light groceries. Take the few extra minutes to walk or bike to work and regularly take the stairs instead of the elevator. Youtube can also be a valuable resource for at-home workouts such as yoga and circuit training.

Healthy Eating

The typical American diet now exceeds the recommended intake levels or limits in calories from solid fats and added sugars, refined grains, sodium, and saturated fat. Americans also eat far less of the recommended amounts of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Healthy eating has an immediate impact on energy and alertness, and over time helps reduce the risk of many chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.

A busy lifestyle challenges healthy eating habits, but planning ahead can have a positive impact. Instead of going out for lunch, prep healthy meals at home. Drink water or tea instead of soda to stay alert throughout the workday and pack fruits and vegetables for snacking. At home, buy fresh produce and lean meats for meals, or sign up for a healthy meal service which delivers pre-prepared dishes or healthy ingredients for cooking.

Mental Health

Stress is one of the largest contributors to poor overall health and can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. High levels of stress negatively impact sleep, decision making, and socialization. Lower stress levels lead to better mental health resulting in increased productivity, reduced risk of chronic illness, and stronger relationships.  

Clearly, mental health is directly related to physical activity and diet. This balance is key as physical activity leads to lower stress, and better sleep. To further improve mental health, get enough sleep each night and seek small ways to relieve stress, such as yoga or daily meditation— even 10 minutes a day can improve attention span, immunity, sleep, and overall brain function.

Biostrap helps ensure you maintain a healthy lifestyle inside and outside of the gym. By tracking your every move at a high level, Biostrap’s metrics can be used to inform your overall well being and help you make healthier choices every day.

The Physiology of Rest & Recovery

The Physiology of Rest & Recovery

In order to understand the role of rest and recovery time, it’s important to acknowledge exactly what occurs in the body physiologically during and after exercise.

During exercise, the body is challenged and pushed slightly beyond its current limits. This stress creates slight trauma and micro-tears to the muscle and tissue. But when that muscle and tissue is repaired, the body grows stronger and its limits expand.

Therefore, the key to growing stronger is putting just enough stress on the body that the muscles need repair, and then allowing the body time to recover. This recovery time is not only vital to muscle repair— exercise also impacts digestion, hormone regulation, kidney function, immunity, and more, so it impacts the entire body. Without allowing enough rest and recovery time between workouts, the body may not repair properly, which can affect muscles, sleep, mood, and energy levels.

So, when does the body need a break?

Abnormal Heart Rate

Hands down, the best indicator of overtraining or the necessity of a rest day is your heart. Both Resting Heart Rate (RHR) and Heart Rate Variability (HRV) can guide you. Check each of these vitals on training mornings. A higher than normal RHR indicates overtraining, potential hiccups in your current training regimen, or even an oncoming illness.

The body also indicates when it needs a break with a low HRV. An intense workout can keep your heart rate variability low for days as the body recovers. Rather than putting yourself at risk of overtraining, which can lead to muscle damage or mood imbalances, heart rate variance data can keep you active at the most opportune of times. Remember, HRV can be counter-intuitive and the higher the variance— or more sporadic the heartbeat— the better. Low variance in between heart beats— that is, a consistent heartbeat— indicates a dominance of the sympathetic nervous system. This system's primary process is to stimulate the body's “fight-or-flight” response but, when experienced without a threat, is signaling stress, overtraining, and inflammation.

Muscle Soreness

With most types of training and cardio, muscle soreness is to be expected, but it’s also another strong sign of the need for recovery time. The key is to put just the right amount of stress on the body, or train just above but not too far beyond your current ability. Soreness is a sign of stress on the muscle that is undergoing repair, which generally should take one to two recovery days for a challenging workout. It’s important you do not train sore muscles, as they are not adequately repaired. Instead, work different muscle on groups on different days, so the previous groups have time to recover before you work them out again. After an intense full-body workout which leaves the entire body sore, take the rest day.

Every body is different and only you can know how you feel from day to day. Trust your instincts and pay attention to your body. If you feel sore, fatigued, just out of sync, or Biostrap indicates abnormal Resting Heart Rate or Heart Rate Variability, take the day off— your body will thank you.

Finding A Balanced Lifestyle

Finding A Balanced Lifestyle

The key to a healthy lifestyle is balance, but true balance is difficult to achieve and takes work. However, with a little planning and discipline, balance may be more attainable than you think.

We are all likely overworked, overcommitted, and sometimes simply running on fumes. Life is hectic and juggling a career, family, fitness, and a social life is an everyday challenge. But a few simple changes to your routine and attitude can reap healthy benefits and help you find the balance you seek.

Workout Efficiently

Reaching your personal fitness and wellness goals doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be in the gym six days a week for hours at a time. In fact, many trainers and experts recommend workouts of 60 minutes or less, four to five times a week, with at least two active rest days. The key is planning ahead to target specific muscle groups along with cardio goals within your schedule. Aim for fast-paced circuit-training or high-intensity workouts with short rest periods between sets. If you need an extra day out of the gym, seek out an active weekend activity such as hiking or biking.

Generate Healthy Habits

If you’re determined to hit the gym five days a week, wake up an hour earlier each day. Generally, those who work out in the morning are more consistent in their routines, have improved mood and energy throughout the day, and still have time for other commitments without sacrificing health. The same goes for diet — don’t make it more work than necessary. Focus on eating whole foods and allot a couple of extra hours on the weekend to meal plan, grocery shop, and prep for the upcoming week; it will save you more time and stress throughout the busy week. Set realistic goals for yourself and generate a schedule that helps keep your health, professional, and personal life on track.

Give Yourself A Break

Literally and figuratively speaking. If you’re working hard and sticking to your goals, allow yourself periodic downtime to reset. Make sure you make time for fun and don’t beat yourself up for diet cheats or the occasional missed workout in exchange for a day spent with friends or family. Research shows that downtime is an important key to health and restores attention and motivation, enhances creativity and productivity, helps us form stable memories, and is vital to achieving our highest levels of mental and physical performance. Create time for meditation and relaxation a few minutes each day and embrace the quiet moments.

Remember, you are in control of your health and can make changes at any time. Allow Biostrap to help you make healthy choices and attain the lifestyle of your dreams.

Take It Outside: Make Working Out Outdoors A Fitness Habit

Take It Outside: Make Working Out Outdoors A Fitness Habit

Take advantage of the warmer months by moving your workout routine outside and reaping some scientifically-backed benefits.

According to recent studies, the average American spends less than 7 percent of their time outdoors while research shows that spending time outside can improve cognitive function and sleep, and increase attention span. The psychological and physical benefits of making an outdoor workout a fitness habit are rich and motivating more and more people to move outside.

Work harder and longer.

Compared to the gym, outdoor terrain is more varied and challenging. Runners and bicyclists expend more energy while facing obstacles such as wind, gravel, inclines and declines. For example, it’s difficult to mimic the effort of running downhill on a treadmill, but it works different muscles and provides alternative results to running on an incline. A recent study also showed that older males who walked or jogged outside were significantly more physically active than those who exercised indoors, completing, on average, about 30 minutes more exercise each week than those who walked or otherwise exercised indoors leading to a healthy Resting Heart Rate and increased Heart Rate Variability.

Improve mental wellbeing.

In several psychological tests, volunteers scored significantly higher on measures of vitality, enthusiasm, pleasure and self-esteem and lower on tension, depression and fatigue after outside activity compared to those exercising indoors. They also reported greater enjoyment and satisfaction with outdoor activity and stated that they were more likely to repeat the activity at a later date. There is additional speculation that absorbing Vitamin D from the sunlight while exercising outdoors can enhance mood and wellbeing.

Improve Blood Oxygen Saturation Levels.

The body lives off of oxygen as an energy source, and it keeps the body functioning normally. A high Blood Oxygen Saturation Level is an indicator of overall health and quality of life. This important vital can be improved with exercise and by spending more time in the fresh air, so why not combine the two?

It’s more convenient.

In an outdoor workout routine, you can choose when and where you exercise, day or night (especially if you have access to well-lit areas). Workouts become more flexible with work and family obligations and, for those that despise the monotony and routine of the gym, time and location can be easily altered daily. It can also potentially save you hundreds of dollars in gym membership or class fees. By skipping the gym, you avoid both waiting for particular machines and the plethora of germs left behind on machines, water fountains, and in locker rooms.

Wherever your fitness routine takes you, Biostrap stays with you to deliver the vital clinical quality metrics from the wearable wristband and shoe clip that help you pursue all of your health and fitness goals.

The Importance of Sleep for Overall Health

The Importance of Sleep for Overall Health

One out of three Americans get less than 7 hours of sleep a night, which can have a huge impact on overall health.

We could all use more sleep. The Centers for Disease Control recommends adults sleep at least seven hours per night; however, the CDC recently reported that many Americans aren’t getting enough sleep. In fact, over the last five decades, the average American has lost an hour and a half of sleep each weeknight, going to bed later but still waking up at relatively the same time.

When you don’t get enough sleep, or poor quality sleep, it has an immediate impact on your mood and alertness, but did you know sleep is also a vital component of overall health?

Sleep and Overall Health

Sleep influences all of the body’s major physiologic systems, including thermoregulatory, musculoskeletal, endocrine, respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and immune systems, as well as weight. Therefore, sleep and health are closely related— when you’re not at your healthiest your sleep quality suffers, and when your sleep quality suffers it can have negative health consequences. 67% of people with less than good sleep quality also report “poor” or “only fair” health.

Extended periods of too little sleep can impact professional and social performance as well as increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and frequent mental distress. Mood problems, anxiety and depression, and increased risk of accidents can also be exacerbated by lack of sleep. However, these are all effects of short and long-term sleep debt, which can be made up over time by altering sleep patterns and habits— consistently getting more sleep and higher quality sleep each night.

Why don’t we get enough sleep?

In recent years, research has shown that the blue light from electronic devices such as phones, tablets, and televisions can have a negative impact on our sleep. Like sunlight, blue light affects circadian rhythm by halting melatonin production; this disruption leads to less sleep and poorer quality sleep. Easy access to technology also leads to longer workdays and increased alertness while playing games or reading the news at night.

Stress and sleeping disorders are also common sleep detriments. Rather than relaxing or unwinding before bed, many Americans focus on activities which heighten their stress levels, such as responding to emails. High stress levels can lead to insomnia and other undiagnosed sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, which not only impact duration and quality of sleep, but can generate serious health risks.

Sleeping Tips

  1. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day— consistency is key.
  2. Physical activity has been proven to improve sleep quality, duration, and reduce the risk of developing certain sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome.
  3. Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime.
  4. Turn off blue light technology 90 minutes before bed.
  5. Talk to your doctor about your sleeping patterns and any issues such as snoring or chronic daytime fatigue.

Use Biostrap to accurately measure your sleep. When you better understand your sleep habits and the amount of quality sleep you get each night, you can begin to alter your habits and improve your sleep and overall health.

Hacking Your Parasympathetic Nervous System

Hacking Your Parasympathetic Nervous System

In assessing overall health, the role of the nervous system is often overlooked, but the Parasympathetic Nervous System is a key component in understanding and achieving optimal training and wellness goals.

The body’s Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) controls and influences internal organ function through largely automatic processes such as digestion, respiration, and heart rate. The larger ANS is divided into several systems including the more well-known “fight-or-flight” Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and lesser known “rest-and-digest” Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). These systems naturally counteract each other and work to achieve balance within the body.

Why It’s Important

The body should naturally remain in PNS most of the time, and only activate SNS in life-threatening situations; however, in the modern age, the body’s SNS response is often triggered by everyday stressors, including adrenaline rushes from caffeine, exercise, and anxiety.

Spending too much time in SNS can lead to a general weakening of the immune system as well as other serious health issues such as:

  • Cardiovascular issues. High blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, and heart attack
  • Gastrointestinal issues. IBS, chronic constipation or diarrhea
  • Endocrine System issues. Type 2 diabetes, sexual impotence, and decreased energy and longevity
  • Decreased exercise recovery. Muscle and training fatigue

Comparatively, some benefits from spending more time in PNS include:

  • Cardiovascular benefits. Higher Heart Rate Variability, lower blood pressure, decreased risk of heart attack
  • More stable blood sugar. Decreased risk of diabetes
  • Higher overall energy. Due to more balanced cortisol levels
  • Better sleep quality. SNS can negatively impact circadian rhythm

Activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System

While the average person spends too much time in SNS, there are ways to adjust your habits and thinking in order to increase time spent in PNS.

High Intensity Training. Change it up— high intensity exercise activates the SNS and studies have shown that repeated, intense training can decrease the ability to transition back to the PNS. Like most things in life, balance is key: take rest days and be sure to include lower intensity exercises throughout the week.

Aerobic Exercise. Studies have shown that light to moderate aerobic exercise such as walking or swimming for at least 30 minutes per day at least five days per week can improve the PNS response. Over time, the PNS response and Heart Rate Variability increase and Resting Heart Rate decreases. Mind-body centered exercise such as yoga and tai chi carry similar benefits.

Meditation & Massage. Stress relief and relaxation are hugely impactful in achieving the “rest-and-digest” mode of the PNS. Deep breathing and focus on relaxing the mind lead to less stress and less time spent in SNS.

Many of the metrics Biostrap tracks— including HRV, RHR, SpO2, and sleep tracking— can be quality indicators of time spent in the SNS vs. PNS. By carefully tracking your body’s metrics, you can consciously control your Autonomic Nervous System and reap the benefits of the Parasympathetic Response.

Know Your Blood Oxygen Saturation Levels

Know Your Blood Oxygen Saturation Levels

Blood oxygen saturation levels measure the efficiency and intensity of workouts, but they can also indicate underlying health risks and disease.

Blood oxygen saturation (abbreviated SpO2) is a measure of how much oxygen the blood is carrying and can be measured using a pulse oximeter without using a needle. This is a percentage of how much oxygen is in your blood compared to the maximum it is capable of carrying. Typically, when red blood cells pass through the lungs, 95%-100% of them are loaded, or "saturated," with oxygen. Generally, more than 89% of your red blood should be carrying oxygen at any given time.

How Pulse Oximeters Work

Beams of red and infrared light from the pulse oximeter device pass through the bloodstream to measure the percentage of hemoglobin that You will not feel this happen. Measuring this way is possible because hemoglobin is a different color with and without oxygen, and absorbs different amounts of light depending on the oxygen level. The difference between the amount of absorption provides an accurate level of your oxygen saturation.

Know Your Blood Oxygen Saturation Level

The body lives off of oxygen as an energy source, and it keeps the body functioning normally. Most people need a minimum SpO2 level of 89% to maintain healthy cells; anything lower can cause strain on the heart, lungs, and liver and keep the body from functioning properly.

Low SpO2 levels are known as hypoxia and can be a sign of lung disease or sleep apnea, which may necessitate supplemental oxygen to maintain healthy functioning and prevent long-term damage to the cells. Other potential causes of hypoxia include asthma, emphysema, pneumonia, heart problems, and anemia.

When exercising, SpO2 levels indicate how much oxygen is reaching the muscles during a regular workout, so it is important to know SpO2 levels just after activity. High blood oxygen levels mean the body will transport oxygen throughout the body quicker, indicating efficient and intense workouts; low blood oxygen levels mean the body will send oxygen to the muscles at a much slower rate, causing fatigue and a less effective workout.  

Improving Blood Oxygen Levels

1. Exercise. The body has to work to keep SpO2 levels up during exercise, which over time can increase SpO2 levels when not exercising. One hour of aerobic exercise such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming, or dancing at least three times a week can significantly improve SpO2 levels.

2. Fresh Air. Increase the amount of oxygen you breathe. Exercise outside often, open windows, and increase the live plants in your home and office to improve your fresh oxygen intake.

3. Diet. Foods high in chlorophyll, such as raw fruits, green vegetables, seeds and nuts, draw more oxygen into the blood and improve SpO2 levels over time.

4. Deep Breathing. Practice deep breathing for a few minutes each day to correct oxygen deficiency. Fill the lungs to full capacity by expanding the chest and abdomen.

Biostrap can help you track this important vital.* Understanding your blood oxygen levels is not only helpful to those who exercise; it's also imperative for those who may suffer from low blood oxygen levels, such as those diagnosed with Sleep Apnea.

*Biostrap is not intended for diagnosing or treating medical conditions.

Understanding Sleep Apnea with Oxygen Saturation

Understanding Sleep Apnea with Oxygen Saturation

Do you ever feel that, no matter how much sleep you get, you never find yourself completely rested?

Millions of Americans are affected by this same feeling every year, often due to obstructed breathing known as sleep apnea. Usually caused by soft tissue in the back of the throat collapsing and impeding oxygen flow, obstructive sleep apnea affects a significant portion of the population. Central sleep apnea, a similar but less prevalent form of the disorder, isn’t caused by airway blockage but because the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe.

While sleep apnea is a common disorder affecting men far more frequently than women, many people are unaware that they suffer from obstructed breathing because the halted breathing doesn’t trigger a full awakening.

So what ways are there for people to ensure they’re getting the quality sleep their body needs? The answer is monitoring your blood oxygen levels, one of the many insights provided by Biostrap technology.

One of the telltale signs that poor breathing is beginning to affect someone’s day to day performance is a lowered oxygen saturation level. Medically speaking, blood oxygen levels are expressed as a percentage of oxygenated hemoglobins, a protein found within red blood cells.

While a healthy blood oxygen level fluctuates with sea level, an oxygen saturation level of 96-97% is considered normal. Those suffering from severe obstructed breathing can see levels below 80%, but moderate effects can be seen below 90%. These depleted levels of oxygenated hemoglobins are known as hypoxemia with symptoms including breathlessness and inconsistent breathing.

Along with tracking HRV and resting heart rate, Biostrap is able to utilize the latest in pulse oximetry technology to monitor blood oxygen levels in an unintrusive manner. Using a red light to pass wavelengths that measure the absorbance of the pulsing arterial blood, Biostrap users can obtain up to date information on whether their body is getting the oxygen it needs.

Don't waste another night with poor sleep. Take health into your own hands with Biostrap!

How To Live Healthier Using Heart Rate Variability

How To Live Healthier Using Heart Rate Variability

Heart rates are easy. We can understand how our heart beats—and counting how many times it does a minute is simple enough, but measuring the slight differences in time between each beat to find heart rate variability? That sounds like complex medical work.

And in fact, monitoring heart rate variability has been a crucial part of how doctors examine their patients for decades. 

Using the same clinical grade PPG sensors, Biostrap allows consumers the same insights as the professional medical community. Researchers have identified Heart Rate Variability as a biometric that lends great insight into our overall health, indicating everything from stress levels to fitness performance.

Understanding the role of heart rate variability in a healthier lifestyle requires a general knowledge of what the biometric is and how it affects our bodies.

High Versus Low

Although it may sound counterintuitive, a low variance—a steady, consistent pattern of heart beats—is not the healthiest state for your body to be operating in. Higher interval variance, or significant changes in time between beats, means your heart is working in a healthy, sporadic way. Your body constantly needs blood and nutrients, but a healthy heart pumps only when necessary, fluctuating in activity as the body calls for it.

High HRV

Generally speaking, higher heart rate variability is indicative of the control of the parasympathetic system, one of the two sides of the autonomic nervous system. This system is responsible for regulating the body's unconscious actions including sexual arousal, salivation, and digestion––often called the “rest and digest” system.

Low HRV

Low variance in between heart beats, or a consistent heartbeat, indicates a dominance of the sympathetic system. This system's primary process is to stimulate the body's fight-or-flight response but, when experienced without a threat, is signaling stress, overtraining, and inflammation.

Healthier Lifestyle

Having access to all this insightful data packaged neatly for you inside a mobile app is great, but how can it lead to a healthier lifestyle?

For one, your fitness routine can benefit immensely from simply exercising when your body is rested. An intense workout can keep your heart rate variability low for days as your body recovers. Rather than putting yourself at risk of overtraining, which can lead to muscle damage or mood imbalances, heart rate variance data can keep you active at the most opportune of times.

Along with fitness benefits, being able to quantify how your heart is affecting your mood gives you extra insight into your well-being. Mark Sisson, an award-winning author and fitness expert, talks about how, after getting a “high-stress” warning from heart rate variance data, he’s able to actively and subconsciously calm himself and relax.

In general, the benefits and possibilities of monitoring HRV are well documented

Luckily, taking your health into your hands has never been easier!