Utilizing Apple Watch and iPhone to Track and Monitor HRV: A How-To Guide

HRV is an invaluable health metric that is gauged by Apple Watch; however, there’s no inherent integration in watchOS or iOS to more effectively comprehend and utilize the data – delegating that to third-party applications. Below, we will discuss what HRV is, its importance, and how to document and utilize HRV with Apple Watch and iPhone.

Explanation of HRV

HRV, or Heart Rate Variability, denotes the measurement of fluctuations in the intervals between heartbeats. These slight variations are imperceptible, but devices such as Apple Watch capture HRV, which is computed in milliseconds.

Several medical experts argue that measuring HRV through the skin with smartwatches is not as precise as dedicated medical equipment. However, research has indicated that Apple Watch is as dependable as products such as Polar’s heart rate monitors for gauging HRV.

In the latter part of 2022, we witnessed the most recent study published, demonstrating that Apple Watch is accurate in tracking HRV.

Significance of HRV

While it may appear unfavorable at first, a higher HRV actually signals being in better health, contentment, lower stress, and could indicate readiness for physical activity and recovery.

Many health and fitness professionals regard HRV as one of the best indicators to gauge when your body needs rest or is prepared for action, as well as providing an insight into the state of your autonomic nervous system.

In parallel with HRV, Cardio Fitness – based on VO2 max – is another essential metric that can be indicative and predictive of overall well-being.

Here’s the explanation of HRV according to the Cleveland Clinic:

The variability in your heartbeat indicates how adaptable your body can be. If your heart rate is highly variable, this is usually evidence that your body can adapt to many kinds of changes. People with high heart rate variability are usually less stressed and happier.

Conversely, a low HRV (at rest) can indicate that your body is less adaptable/resilient and may be an indication of health problems or potential health issues in the future.

Optimal HRV Number

HRV is a very personalized and continuously changing metric. It is also contingent on a variety of factors including physical and mental health/stress, diet, nutrition, alcohol use, sleep habits, age, gender, genetics, exercise frequency/intensity, and more.

HRV can also fluctuate significantly throughout the day, so do not focus on tracking it hour by hour. With this in mind, it is important to not measure HRV by comparing it to others but to simply monitor your own HRV trends over time. If you have inquiries about your HRV values, consult your healthcare provider.

However, if you are curious about typical HRV values, Whoop has disclosed the middle 50% HRV figures of its users by age:

How to use HRV with Apple Watch - average HRV numbers by age via Whoop

Utilization of HRV with Apple Watch and iPhone

Locating Your HRV Apple Watch Data

For Apple Watch users 18 and above, HRV is automatically recorded with Apple Watch (in most territories). However, you must access the Health app on iPhone to view the data.

  • Open the Health app on iPhone
  • Tap the Browse tab in the lower right corner
  • Now select Heart > Heart Rate Variability
  • At the top, you can switch the HRV data view by day, week, month, half-year, and year
track HRV with Apple Watch walkthrough

How to Encourage Recording of HRV with Apple Watch

You can obtain more precise and potentially more valuable data by manually conducting an HRV reading with Apple Watch at rest and at the same time each day.

  • In addition to the automated readings, you can prompt Apple Watch to record your HRV by launching the Mindfulness app and selecting Breathe
  • Shortly after, you will observe the new HRV data appearing in the Health app on iPhone

Extracting More Value from Your HRV Data

The limitation is that Apple Watch and the iOS Health app do not provide any suggestions or insights into your HRV data like Whoop or Oura.

It is enlightening to be aware that an increasing HRV is a good indication of overall health; however, what about more actionable insights?

I have utilized the app Training Today and have been impressed by its recommendations. After enabling it to read your HRV data from the Health app, the app compares your existing HRV to your standard to make a recommendation, such as taking time for recovery, “maintain consistency but listen to your body,” or “ready for peak performance.”

Training Today refers to it as a readiness to train (RTT) score and operates on an easy-to-use, color-coded 0-10 scale. I have found the recommendations to be a really helpful prompt to listen to what my body is telling me.

Apple Watch Training Today app - use HRV with Apple Watch and iPhone

Training Today is available for free download from the App Store with in-app purchases to unlock all features of the app.

Other excellent HRV-based apps worth checking out include:

And if you happen to own a compatible Bluetooth or ANT heart rate monitor from Polar, Suunto, or others, Elite HRV is another iOS app that offers a more detailed and actionable experience.

Improving HRV

Intelligent health tracker Whoop has published an excellent article on 10 ways to enhance your HRV. You may not discover many surprises, but the list serves as a useful reminder of areas to revisit/prioritize:

  • Exercise
  • Diet and nutrition
  • Consistent sleep
  • Stay hydrated
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Focused breathing
  • Meditation
  • Cold therapy
  • Gratitude journaling

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