Is that an exercise physiologist in your pocket? Or are you just happy to be exercising? Until now, subtle signals from the autonomic (involuntary) nervous system, heart and lungs have been the exclusive domain of cardiologists and health care professionals equipped with expensive electrocardiograms or ECGs. But the new generation of fitness and health trackers hold the promise of providing you with in-depth data and analysis to keep you healthier and fitter than ever before. With the arrival of these new monitors and apps, coaching that was previously exclusive to elite athletes is coming directly to your smartphone.
In a manner of speaking, your heart has a brain. Most of the heart consists of specialized muscle called myocardium, but unlike the skeletal muscle cells, these cells are conductive, like nerves. Through an intricate network of specialized fibers and connections to the autonomic, or involuntary, nervous system, your healthy heart is inexorably linked to your breath and emotion. It knows how fast to beat, how strong to beat and can respond almost instantly to exercise and stress. It knows how to pump harder when you need more oxygen, and it knows when you’re happy or sad. Going beyond simple respiration and heart rates can help you train and manage stress better.
To assist you with balancing your training, a new generation of personal, wearable monitors and software can empower you to optimize your training—and mindset—with new information about your heart and overall physiology. Knowing your vitals can help you avoid overtraining give you better results. For example, The Zephyr Bioharness, and the Zephyr HxM Heart Rate Monitor are personal versions of similar gear used by first responders, military Special Forces and elite athletes. Paired with apps such as Endomondo, MapMyRun and Runtastic, the Zephyr’s data can notify you when you’re training too hard or not hard enough through its Life Score algorithm.
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is the beat-to-beat time variation between heartbeats. HRV has been shown to be a predictor of overall health and longevity. It is also an excellent indicator of your true fitness levels and how well you handle emotional stress. The good news is that the BioForceHRV and ithlete programs feature entire systems centered around HRV, so you can sync your training to your goals and, in turn, improve your HRV with exercise.
If you don’t like wearing a monitor, and optimal health is what you’re after, the Tinke Zensorium takes stock of your vitals including HRV, blood oxygen and respiration, tracking it with only a finger touch 60 seconds a day. Additionally, Tinke’s Vital Index measures your overall fitness, and its Zen Index can aid you in managing stress.
If you’re more concerned about living mindfully, another worthy goal, learn to manage your stress with the Inner Balance Emwave from HeartMath. A simple app trains you to regulate your breathing with your HRV to obtain a state of equanimity. This technique is also available on an Android or iPhone app from the Huffington Post, GPS for The Soul. Both work surprisingly well. Has the Information Age has been good for the body and soul? The jury’s still out, but these tech advancements are definitely in the “pro” column.