Heart Rate Variability: New Perspectives on Physiological Mechanisms, Assessment of Self-regulatory Capacity, and Health Risk
Rollin McCraty, PhD and Fred Shaffer, PhD, BCB
Global Advances in Health and Medicine 4.1 (2015): 46-61.
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Heart rate variability, the change in the time intervals between adjacent heartbeats, is an emergent property of interdependent regulatory systems that operates on different time scales to adapt to environmental and psychological challenges. This article briefly reviews neural regulation of the heart and offers some new perspectives on mechanisms underlying the very low frequency rhythm of heart rate variability. Interpretation of heart rate variability rhythms in the context of health risk and physiological and psychological self-regulatory capacity assessment is discussed. The cardiovascular regulatory centers in the spinal cord and medulla integrate inputs from higher brain centers with afferent cardiovascular system inputs to adjust heart rate and blood pressure via sympathetic and parasympathetic efferent pathways. We also discuss the intrinsic cardiac nervous system and the heart-brain connection pathways, through which afferent information can influence activity in the subcortical, frontocortical, and motor cortex areas. In addition, the use of real-time HRV feedback to increase self-regulatory capacity is reviewed. We conclude that the heart’s rhythms are characterized by both complexity and stability over longer time scales that reflect both physiological and psychological functional status of these internal self-regulatory systems.