We all know the feeling.
You wake up with your eyelids weirdly sticking together. Your head lightly throbs as you wake up, your throat scratches at is yearns for water. Dammit, you’re sick.
The first thing you’ll want to do is sleep in, of course. Then, you’ll grab for the zinc and vitamin D and start steeping the tea. These are great steps to healing, of course, but we all know that by this point it’s too late. The virus has already come, and really, there’s nothing we’re going to be able to do now except ride out the cold or flu symptoms, lying in your bed.
If only you’d known you were going to get sick, you would’ve taken the few previous days much easier and stomped the pathogen in its path. But, obviously you can’t know you’re going to get sick until you’re, well, sick.
Or can you.
Wearable devices like Whoop Bands provide you with all kinds of information. And, if you know what you’re looking at, you can predict when your immune system will be working over time and your body will be predisposed to catching an illness.
In fact, all you have to do is look at these two metrics and, if you respond appropriately, you can glean the information necessary so you don’t get sick at all. Imagine if you all those sick days you typically deal with year in and year out were replaced with some of your most productive, energetic days.
You just have to look at these two numbers carefully: resting heart rate, and heart rate variability
This is why we track 2 metrics that will allow you to prevent sickness and reduce your number of sick days:
Resting Heart Rate and Heart Rate Variability
Before we get into to talking about these two common metrics and their relationship to one another, first we have to understand why we get sick. Now, novel viruses like SARS-COV2 (COVID-19) aside, getting the flu and the common cold — and their effects on us — depends not only on encountering pathogens but also whether our immune system is able to ward off those pathogens.
If we have elevated stress levels, are working out hard, and not sleeping as much or as well as we need to, the immune system will take a hit, leaving us more susceptible to common illness.
Our immune system’s ability to respond to pathogens, simply, depends on our recovery from all of life’s stresses. So the question then becomes, how can I tell when the stress of my life exceeds my recovery?
Resting Heart Rate
As your recovery slides and your body becomes fatigued, one fo the first easily recognizable signs will be your resting heart rate. Your wearable will record your resting heart rate while you sleep each night. This will give you a consistent day-to-day log for your RHR. And, generally, you’ll see a consistent number.
If your RHR rises up about 10-15% over the course of two days, that’s a sign you’re more fatigued than normal, and you should take the precautions for recovery as if you were sick. So, if your RHR is normally 50 beats per minute, and suddenly it’s 55, that’s a red flag. If this happens, cancel your workouts, get extra sleep, steep the tea, take the zinc and vitamin D. Ease off of the stress on your body.
Heart Rate Variability
HRV, as the name implies, is a measure the fluctuation (variation) in your heart beats. If your HRV is high, that means your heart rate varies more, a sign that it’s responding to changes in your environment. For example, if you start run, your heart rate will shoot up. The quicker it shoots up, the better your body is responding, and the higher your HRV will be. During activity is an extreme example, but even while we’re sleeping our body has different demands at different moments, and a high HRV is a sign our body is aptly responding.
When you’re underrecovered and stressed, a drop in HRV will be one of the first signs. It means your body (and heart, specifically) aren’t responding the way they should. A 5-10% drop means you should ease off of your stress levels and prioritize your recovery above all else.
What Happens When These Head In the Wrong Direction
Often, your resting heart rate will have an inverse relationship with your HRV: when one drops, the other rises. If you want to ward off illness before you feel its effects, its paramount ot take action on this data before you start to feel symptoms. Once you’re symptomatic, you’re going to have to ride it out.
Getting sick is a lot like getting a small injury. Nobody wants to stretch when they feel good, but once they pull their hip flexor, you’ll see them on the foam roller all day. When really, if they just regularly stretched their hip flexors when they felt good, they wouldn’t have gotten injured in the first place.
That’s what sickness is like too. Except, with the wearable, you now have to data to know when exactly you need to prioritize recovery and taking care of your body.
Using your wearable device to make small changes is a perfect example of what mean when we talk about the importance of “being a pro.”