You’d think as an Exercise Physiologist with 17 years experience I wouldn’t need a health coach. In fact I thought I had a pretty good handle on my health. As Max wrote about his experience in a previous blog, we’ve had the opportunity to use a Whoop band. So we thought we’d use the opportunity to learn more about our exercise, sleep and recovery. What I discovered both surprised and motivated me!
Apart from being a great accountability tool to help guide me on my sleep and exercise intensity, what I found most interesting was Whoop’s recovery metric. You see the Whoop band monitors both your heart rate and heart rate variability (HRV). It then gives you a score as to how well you’ve recovered.
HRV is a marker of “internal” stress
Now in a previous blog, not only did I describe what HRV is, but I also explained that it is a biomarker that responds to stress, inflammation and even food! You see, because HRV is a measure of the balance between our fight or flight response and our rest and digest response, anything that our body finds “stressful” or “inflammatory” has the potential to be picked up by a drop in your HRV.
What your body finds stressful is extremely individual. This depends on a multitude of factors including our genetics, immune function and the environment we live in. You see it can be almost impossible to work out, and I’ve spent many years exploring what works for me.
Using HRV as a marker, which is obviously only one of many potential health markers, can be a really useful way to work out what MY body finds stressful and impacts on my recovery.
So within a week with Whoop, I’ve already learnt (or reaffirmed) something about my diet that my body finds stressful.
So what did my 24/7 health coach reveal?
Here’s a screenshot of my recovery levels using the Whoop Dashboard. When your in the “green” zone you’re regarded as fully recovered, while the red zone indicates that you’ve got to tread carefully. This could be an indicator of training too hard, you’re recovering from an injury, or you might be coming down with sickness. For me it was none of these.
You see on the Saturday night I chose to have fried food and a couple of alcoholic drinks. Now I’ve had a few nights where I’ve had similar alcohol consumption and while it definitely affects my recovery it’s usually not enough to push me into the red zone.
So my thoughts are now directed toward the fried, fatty “pub meal” that I chose to eat that Saturday night. In particular how I felt that Saturday (and even Sunday) night! And as I explained in a previous blog, saturated and trans-fats are something has has been shown to affect your HRV.
What a good night’s sleep looks like for me
Just so you can see things a bit more visually I’ve included a graph or my heart rate on a “good” night, as well as my heart rate during the night after that meal.
Now my HRV on this “good” night was around 130, and thus far it is consistently between 100 and 140. This number varies with age, fitness and genetics so the score means very little. However it’s the change that matters.
So what did the bad night’s sleep look like?
On the bad night my HRV had dropped to 36, a very low score. You’ll see in the graph that my recovery score was only 13% as compared to 98% in the previous one.
What you’ll also notice between the two graphs is the difference in the heart rate overnight. You can see that it took most of the night for my heart rate to drop. My average resting HR is normally around 46, that night it was 63. This is 37% higher!
Now subjectively I woke up feeling bloated and very lethargic. This can happen from time to time and I often don’t think about it twice. But in my gut (pun intended), I’ve known that there are certain foods that don’t agree with me and I need to moderate.
Why Whoop is my 24/7 health coach
So now I’m extremely motivated as I now have a tool to help quantify my recovery. I can use this to work out my individual response to the multitude of factors that life throws at all of us! I’m seeing the Whoop band as my 24/7 health coach. Guiding me to make changes to my Food, Exercise, Sleep and Stress which at the end of the day will help make me fitter, healthier and improve my energy!
Click here for more information on our Whoop health coaching service.
About The Author
Now most of us know that our heart rate changes in times of stress. We feel it racing when there’s an impending deadline at work. It’s also well known that regular exercise lowers our resting heart and reduces our risk of many chronic diseases. But did you know that food can also affect heart rate?
Before I explain how food can impact on your heart rate, let me explain in a little more detail the way it does this.
Firstly, it’s important to know that a healthy heart rate does not beat regularly. For example if your resting heart rate is 60 beats per minute, we would not expect your heart to beat once every second. In fact, the variability in your heart rate has been shown to predict risk of premature death in people who have had a heart attack.
What is Heart Rate Variability?
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is not new. In fact, we’ve been measuring (HRV) since the advent of the ECG in the 19th century. What we’ve learnt since then is that when a heart rate is more variable it tends to indicate better health.
Now HRV is a measure of the time difference between successive heart beats in what’s known as the RR interval (see figure below). You’ll notice that the two RR intervals in the figure below have a different RR interval, which is normal. If you have greater variability in the RR interval you are said to have a high HRV.
So while HRV is a measure of heart beats, the signal that creates the variability in the RR interval originates in your nervous system. Therefore our HRV is seen as a measure of the balance between two branches of our nervous system.
The parasympathetic branch controls things like digestion or your fingernails and hair growing. It is often thought of as the “rest and digest” system and it causes a decrease in heart rate.
The sympathetic branch controls our responses to things like stress and exercise. It is our “fight or flight” system and causes an increase in your heart rate.
When our nervous system is balanced it tends to send a lot of mixed messages. Tis result in lots of fluctuation and is highly responsive to change and we then see a high HRV. When one aspect of our nervous system takes over our HRV is less responsive and we get a low HRV.
If you’d like a more detailed explanation on heart rate variability, this article from Whoop makes it nice and clear.
What has HRV got to do with our health?
While HRV is seen as a measure of balance in our nervous system, because this system responds to exercise, psychological stress, inflammation and our underlying physiology it can be also seen as a marker of health.
In fact, changes in HRV correlates with CRP which is an inflammatory marker in your body. It has also been used to predict cardiovascular disease and diabetes (Young & Benton, 2018). Our HRV improves as we get fitter and healthier so it can be a really useful way to track our health.
How does food affect Heart Rate Variability?
You can see that HRV is more than a measure of stress and fitness level. But what we’re starting to learn is that your HRV will even respond to your diet. One well established link is that between our HRV and alcohol (Young & Benton, 2018). Both acute and chronic alcohol consumption causes a lower HRV.
Further to this, there is a growing pool of evidence to show that HRV responds to high blood sugar levels and it decreases as a response to saturated and trans-fats in our diet (Young & Benton, 2018). On the flip side a Mediterranean diet and omega-3 fat consumption tend to improve your HRV. Interestingly all of these food behaviours are all related to your long term health!
So those of you familiar with our FESS questionnaire (Food, Exercise, Stress, Sleep), will notice that changes in HRV respond to most of these behaviours in some way. Perhaps then using this measure could be another way to monitor our long term health?
This is something I’ve been exploring with myself using a “Whoop” band and I plan to share these personal insights in my next blog!
Click here for more information on our Whoop health coaching service.
About The Author
Whilst reading Stephen Lunn’s article in the Weekend Australia this past weekend, ‘How to live well in your final decade’ I couldn’t help but think of many of iNform’s wonderful clients aged 70+.
If you didn’t get a chance to read this article here is a synopsis:
- Australian’s are living longer than we ever have, but the length of our ‘quality years’ is not increasing proportionally.
- This means on average we are spending more years in a state of ill-health, dealing with disease and/or disability.
- To narrow the gap between years lived and quality years the following is recommended: Get fitter and stronger; eat well; keep you mind occupied; be part of a community; remain useful.
Many of the people aged over 70 that I have worked with over the past fifteen years tick all, if not most of those boxes.
I guess that is to be expected. As an Exercise Physiologist I do see a biased sample of Australia’s population.
The only people that access my services are people who are wanting to take control and action over their health and to be brutally honest, have the means to do so.
I never see people who are passive in their health- that are allowing the deterioration of their health to just happen to them. Why would they seek out someone like me?
Unfortunately I also don’t get to see many of those who have the will to take control, but just lack the means (location/transport; finances; awareness etc etc). That is a massive topic for another day- for now I would like to focus only on those I do see.
When I think of the men and women of 70+ years that I have trained, the following things come to mind:
- An unwillingness to write things off as ‘it’s probably just old-age. No, if your knee is sore, there is a reason for it that may well be changeable.
- A desire to travel. And I don’t mean on a Greyhound Bus with an occasional stop at a local ‘famous bakery’. I mean hiking holidays in Peru, Nepal or Switzerland; expeditions to Antarctica by ice-breaker boat; solo driving around Australia in a Camper-van; Ski holidays in Japan; water-skiing on the Murray River. I have helped people of 70+ years achieve all of these things and many more.
- A drive to get stronger. Not just to help bone density or cardiovascular health. But to feel empowered, independent, capable. One of my clients, a woman aged 71 takes great pleasure helping younger women put their bags into overhead lockers on her many flights to far-flung destinations around the world.
- Improving strength and fitness to help them complete their first marathon, or long-distance cycling event.
- A conviction to live independently. Not just exist, or survive. I am talking about hosting parties and other social events; or fixing things or even renovate by themselves.
It is a great privilege to help people achieve these types of things after their 70th birthday. You are never too old to get started, unless you believe you are.
About The Author
Operation Flinders Mountain Bike Challenge 2019
Throughout the 4 days of the Operation Flinders Mountain Bike Challenge a recurring theme in my thoughts was the relativity of time. From the moment we left the terminal at Adelaide Airport on the Friday morning until we arrived back there on Monday night, we were all completely off the grid. We had no phone or internet connection. Our only form of connection to the rest of the world was a CB Radio, used for location updates to the command centre (and in case of emergency).
It was amazing how slow time passed over those four days. Our days in Yankaninna Station were spent like this: Wake up in our swag; ensure the fire was started and maintained; eat breakfast; tidy up; get dressed to ride; ride from camp A to camp B; arrive at camp B; get changed; eat, drink and chat around the fire; go to sleep under stars; repeat. It was a beautifully simple existence.
Through the days as we rode through stunning terrain we could either quietly enjoy the natural beauty of our surrounds, or chat with our fellow riders. There was plenty of time for each. Most of the participants were strangers to one-another prior to the event. There were a few small groups, but most people only really knew 3 to 4 of the 15+ people that were there for the event. By the end of the fourth day we had united into a real team. We had gotten to know each other well through sharing intimate thoughts and feelings- when you have nothing to do but travel from point to point, then eat, drink and stay warm you have a lot of time to build relationships. And some of the conversations that I had with people who were strangers only a few days ago, I haven’t ever had with long-time friends or even family. When we first met at Adelaide Airport on the Friday there were polite handshakes to introduce ourselves. As we said goodbye on Monday night, there were hugs all round. It was a deeply satisfying trip. I felt relaxed, replenished, rejuvenated.
So what did I learn from this?
I think it is fair to say that most people in our society can relate to this feeling that time is accelerating. That days, weeks, months, even years are careering out of control. Where did the first half of 2019 go? Why is this? Why can 6 months disappear almost in the blink of an eye, yet four days seem like an eternity? Feeling like the to-do list is always longer than manageable and lengthening by two tasks for every one one that we tick-off feels futile and it makes sense that we would feel constantly under pressure. This kind of life is exhausting. At Yankaninna Station we had no choice than to completely disconnect from the rest of the world- but it seems like the pervasive feeling in our society is that we have no choice than to stay permanently connected at all other times. Do we though?
What can you do?
What would happen if you switched your phone off before dinner and didn’t switch it on again until the next morning after breakfast. What if you switched off wi-fi and data-roaming on Friday when you leave the office and used your phone just to make and receive calls and texts from your family and ‘real’ friends. If you were able to do this, what might this do to your perception of time, and pressure? If you couldn’t burn up time mindlessly scrolling through social media pages what might you notice about the world immediately around you? What conversations would you have with your people if your mind wasn’t frequently distracted by alerts from your phone?
No matter how busy you are, you have the ability to find a bit of sanctuary even just for 10 minutes a day by switching off the phone and quietly taking in your surrounds. You can choose to disconnect from the web and completely be with the people you are with. The world will keep turning, it might just seem like it turns a little slower.
About the Author
Load management principles are used daily in high-end strength and conditioning/sports settings and are critically important in measuring relative injury risk and determining optimal load.
However, the concept of load management may not be limited to high-performance sports or training settings. There are principals of this concept that are applicable in non-sporting settings (eg. day to day activities, work, and leisure). Exploring the wider contexts to which load management principals can be used may assist in reducing overuse/chronic injury risk for the general population.
Let’s Talk Science
A concept developed based on the idea of an ideal training stimulus having the capability to maximise performance through the use of appropriate training loads while limiting negative training consequences (injury and fatigue). The ACWR describes two workload zones, the ‘sweet spot’ and the ‘danger zone’ which represent the likelihood of subsequent injury.
The ‘sweet spot’ is represented in the graph below as a ratio range between 0.8 and 1.3. The ‘danger zone’ is represented as a ratio greater than 1.5.
Calculating ACWR & Load: Acute vs Chronic
In a training setting, this is typically calculated over a 7-day block (average of daily acute workloads). Measures of the sessional rating of perceived exertion (sRPE) times by the duration of the training session would represent the acute load for a day. Example: If sRPE (perceived difficulty) of a 100-minute session is 5 this would equal 500 arbitrary units (AU) (5*100 = 500 AU).
The chronic load can be calculated as an average of the acute workloads.
Week 1: 500 AU
Week 2: 700 AU
Week 3: 600 AU
Week 4: 300 AU
Chronic Load: (500 + 700 + 600 + 300)/4) = 525 AU
ACWR: Acute Load (Week 5: 700AU)/Chronic Load – (700 / 525) = 1.3
To give some commentary to the above equation: If the acute workload for week 5 was to be 700 AU then the ACWR for that period would be 1.3. A value of 1.3 would represent the top end of the “sweet spot” bracket, meaning that the subsequent injury risk for that week is relatively low. If that acute load was to change to say 900 AU then the ratio would be 1.7 and the injury risk would be relatively greater.
Application to YOU
Both internal and external load is inevitable in the workplace, there is no hiding from the fact. The table above displays the application of the ACWR as a load management tool for individuals across a wide range of occupations. As you can see all scenarios have the capacity to create positive or negative outcomes. The outcome is primarily dependent on the preparedness of the individual to that specific task.
Looking specifically at the receptionist, the increase in acute load may come from working longer days during a busy period or working more days in the week to cover for a colleague who is sick for example. These factors can drive up the acute load, inherently increasing injury risk (eg. overuse injuries, such as a repetitive strain injury), leaving the individual unable to work.
However, this doesn’t only apply to occupational tasks…
Simple scenarios such as going for a 10km bike ride after just dusting your bike off from a 10-year absence of use or going on an overseas holiday where you may be walking over 10km per day while being lucky to clock up 2km at home during a normal day; both are examples of a spike in acute load far beyond that of the chronic load.
Take Home Points
- Ensure that you are prepared for any task you will be completing; whether it be walking, running, cycling, gardening, working, playing sport.
- Be mindful of what your body is used to and try to avoid the spikes in acute load for any given task; should you want to reduce the risk of developing any injuries.
About the Author
In my previous blog I discussed incidental physical activity and all the interrogatives that one needed to know. This blog is going to further discuss physical activity. In particular, it will look at a consensus on physical activity and aging (Copenhagen Consensus Statement) that leading researchers from around the world have recently developed.
Some empirical data for you
Higher social-economic country’s are more prone to inactivity. This is partly due to the high demands commercialism places on individuals as well as advances in technology. Furthermore, there is poor access to physical activity. Whether this be bike paths/lanes, parkland’s on-route to work, outdoor equipment and so forth, this can lead to more sedentary behaviors.
Easy access to high-processed foods at the touch of a button have an impact on the current obesity epidemic.
You get the point!
Collectively, the aforementioned points increase the risk for any one of the nine known co-morbidities that ‘we’ are currently facing (hypertension, type II diabetes mellitus, chronic pain just to name a few). It is of the utmost importance that the human population ages and flourishes well. With advances in medicine & technology ‘we’ are living longer lives, there is no doubt about it. However, some are aging with co-morbidities which decreases quality of life, whilst burdening our medical system. There is also more evidence that being physically active between the ages of 15-45 decreases the chances of a bony fracture later in life. Also, having a robust plastic cardio-respiratory system decreases the risk of dementia and cardiovascular disease in later life.
I could go on!
The Copenhagen Consensus Statement
The Copenhagen Consensus statement discussed earlier. Has four themes. Which provide evidence for the benefits of physical activity and ageing (1). I will briefly discuss the four, whilst also providing the reference for further reading if you wish.
Theme 1: Functional Capacity and Health.
Adults that are physically active over inactive adults: are less dependent, have fewer musculoskeletal issues, have improved immunity, increased cognitive function and are less likely to have cardiovascular diseases.
Theme 2: Brain Health and Cognitive Function.
Neurodegeneration (such as Alzheimer’s) can be slowed or delayed in physically active adults; according to longitudinal studies.
Theme 3: Behavior Change, Intention and Habits.
“Physical activity is an individual behavior that is influenced by interpersonal, environmental and policy factors”. (1)
Theme 4: Sociological Perspectives.
Lifelong physical activity habits and experiences, influence participation in later life. “When physical activity is meaningful to them, older adults are more likely to continue participation”. (1)
As you can gauge from the aforementioned. Physical activity is not just about going to the gym. Having access to open environmentally friendly spaces such as parks with safe equipment, bike paths that lead into the CBD, scenic views that increase awe and enjoyment and lastly, promotion and investment from the government are all going to increase adherence to move more, and more frequently.
So whether if you are in your 20’s or 50’s. find ways that resonate with you to move more. The Exercise Physiology team here at iNform Health can safely guide you through your movement. Enabling you to feel safe, adept and confident to tackle any bike path, or hike.
About The Author
Bangsbo J, Blackwell J, Boraxbekk C, et al
Copenhagen Consensus statement 2019: physical activity and ageing
Br J Sports MedPublished Online First: 21 February 2019. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2018-100451