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Beat to a better (heart) rhythm

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
Your heart rate isn’t steady, and you don’t want it to be. A rhythmic, more variable heart rate is good for physical and mental health, plus performance.

Your heart rate varies with every heartbeat. When it varies more, it’s good for your health and performance. Heart rate variability (HRV)—a way to track how your heart rate rhythmically goes up and down—helps you objectively assess your mind-body optimization. HRV measures the time interval between one heartbeat and the next. It can be affected by many factors, including fitness, age, body position, and even the time of day. HRV also decreases during periods of stress. You’ll feel less stressed—and more resilient—when your HRV level is high. Your heart rate speeds up when you inhale and slows down when you exhale too. Breathing at certain paces impacts HRV and—in turn—the mind-body connection and performance. Since you can learn to control your breathing, you also can improve your HRV. Read HPRC’s Vary Your Heart Rate to Perform Your Best to learn more.

Heart-healthy breathing blows stress away

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
It’s American Heart Month! Take care of your heart by developing healthy breathing techniques to reduce stress, improve physical and mental health, and strengthen resilience.

Stress can take its toll on your mental and physical health, including your heart health, but there are breathing techniques to buffer yourself from it! When you’re less focused on your breathing, it’s typical to breathe erratically—especially when you face the stressors of day-to-day life. In turn, your heart rate can become less rhythmic, causing your heart to not function as well.

But when you have longer, slower exhales—breathing at about 4-second-inhale and 6-second-exhale paces—your heart rate rhythmically fluctuates up and down. This rhythmic variability in heart rate mirrors your inhales and exhales so that you have maximum heart rate at the end of the inhale and minimum heart rate at the end of the exhale. More importantly, this physiological shift could help you feel less stressed, anxious, or depressed—and experience better heart health.

It’s easy to go through the motions of breathing while absorbed in your own thoughts; instead, take notice of your breathing and other body sensations. Regularly tuning in to your body sensations could help you feel more resilient and ready to:

  • Adapt to change
  • Deal with whatever comes your way
  • See the brighter, or funnier, side of problems
  • Overcome stress
  • Tolerate unpleasant feelings
  • Bounce back after illnesses, failures, or other hardships
  • Achieve goals despite obstacles
  • Stay focused under pressure
  • Feel stronger

Check out HPRC’s Mind-Body Apps, Tools, and Videos for paced breathing MP3s and additional mind-body exercises. Start training your breathing and becoming more mindful today!

Take a deep breath and relax

HPRC Fitness Arena: Total Force Fitness
All the added stresses of military life can leave your body’s muscles tight and sore. Deep breathing exercises can help release that excess physical tension.

Have you breathed deeply lately? Breathing’s not something we usually have to think about, so we tend to take it for granted. But our breath can be a powerful tool for relaxation and stress relief. Taking time every day to focus on deliberate breathing—that is, breathing deeply and with control—can allow your body’s relaxation response to kick in and help you de-stress.

Slow-paced and deep-breathing exercises have been widely studied for their relaxing effects on the body’s stress response system. There are several types of deep-breathing exercises you can perform, but one of the easiest and most common is just called “deep breathing” (or “diaphragmatic breathing”). HPRC has a video on Breathing Exercises for Optimized Performance that introduces three breathing strategies for human performance optimization: “Deep Breathing,” “Alternate Nostril Breathing,” and “Fast-Paced Breathing.” A longer version is available for you to practice along with the instructor, or you can download a Performance Strategies transcript that takes you through these breathing exercises step-by-step to achieve relaxation.

For more ideas on relaxation strategies, check out the Stress Management resources in HPRC’s Mind Body domain.

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