A critical review of ultra-short-term heart rate variability norms research

Heart rate variability (HRV) is the fluctuation in time between successive heartbeats and is defined by interbeat intervals. Researchers have shown that short-term (~5-min) and long-term (≥ 24-h) HRV measurements are associated with adaptability, health, mobilization, and use of limited regulatory resources, and performance. Long-term HRV recordings predict health outcomes heart attack, stroke, and all-cause mortality. Despite the prognostic value of long-term HRV assessment, it has not been broadly integrated into mainstream medical care or personal health monitoring. Although short-term HRV measurement does not require ambulatory monitoring and the cost of long-term assessment, it is underutilized in medical care. Among the diverse reasons for the slow adoption of short-term HRV measurement is its prohibitive time cost (~5 min). Researchers have addressed this issue by investigating the criterion validity of ultra-short-term (UST) HRV measurements of less than 5-min duration compared with short-term recordings. The criterion validity of a method indicates that a novel measurement procedure produces comparable results to a currently validated measurement tool. We evaluated 28 studies that reported UST HRV features with a minimum of 20 participants, of these 17 did not investigate criterion validity and 8 primarily used correlational and/or group difference criteria. The correlational and group difference criteria were insufficient because they did not control for measurement bias. Only three studies used a limits of agreement (LOA) criterion that specified a priori an acceptable difference between novel and validated values in absolute units. Whereas the selection of rigorous criterion validity methods is essential, researchers also need to address such issues as acceptable measurement bias and control of artifacts. UST measurements are proxies of proxies. They seek to replace short-term values which, in turn, attempt to estimate long-term metrics. Further adoption of UST HRV measurements requires compelling evidence that these metrics can forecast real-world health or performance outcomes. Furthermore, a single false heartbeat can dramatically alter HRV metrics. UST measurement solutions must automatically edit artifactual interbeat interval values otherwise HRV measurements will be invalid. These are the formidable challenges that must be addressed before HRV monitoring can be accepted for widespread use in medicine and personal health care.

A healthy heart is not a metronome: an integrative review of the heart’s anatomy and heart rate variability

Heart rate variability (HRV), the change in the time intervals between adjacent heartbeats, is an emergent property of interdependent regulatory systems that operate on different time scales to adapt to challenges and achieve optimal performance. This article briefly reviews neural regulation of the heart, and its basic anatomy, the cardiac cycle, and the sinoatrial and atrioventricular pacemakers. The cardiovascular regulation center in the medulla integrates sensory information and input from higher brain centers, and afferent cardiovascular system inputs to adjust heart rate and blood pressure via sympathetic and parasympathetic efferent pathways. This article reviews sympathetic and parasympathetic influences on the heart, and examines the interpretation of HRV and the association between reduced HRV, risk of disease and mortality, and the loss of regulatory capacity. This article also discusses the intrinsic cardiac nervous system and the heart-brain connection, through which afferent information can influence activity in the subcortical and frontocortical areas, and motor cortex. It also considers new perspectives on the putative underlying physiological mechanisms and properties of the ultra-low-frequency (ULF), very-low-frequency (VLF), low-frequency (LF), and high-frequency (HF) bands. Additionally, it reviews the most common time and frequency domain measurements as well as standardized data collection protocols. In its final section, this article integrates Porges’ polyvagal theory, Thayer and colleagues’ neurovisceral integration model, Lehrer et al.’s resonance frequency model, and the Institute of HeartMath’s coherence model. The authors conclude that a coherent heart is not a metronome because its rhythms are characterized by both complexity and stability over longer time scales. Future research should expand understanding of how the heart and its intrinsic nervous system influence the brain.