Tiina Hoffman On Measuring and Biohacking Stress

Teemu Arina interviews Exercise Physiologist Tiina Hoffman from Firstbeat about measuring stress and goes through his own data. What can we learn from the heart?



Below are some highlights from the podcast.

  • Normal person can suffer from overtrainning just because of chronic stress. Work can easily carry to your free time.
  • The most common causes of sick leaves in Finland: chronic fatigue, flu and backpain. It’s important to remember, that even with proper sitting ergonomics, you can risk back pain if you don’t exercise.
  • Stress is OK and and normal, unless it’s chronic. Untreated chronic stress can easily lead to physical problems.
  • We often schedule exercise. Why we don’t schedule recovery the same way?
  • Tiina Hoffman used to be the head coach of UAA (University of Alaska, Anchorage) Nordic SKi Team. There are parallels between athletes and normal people. We all need ample time for recovery, or we risk overtrainning.
  • Firstbeat has 150 000 days of stress and recovery data from it’s customers. Some trends that have emerged: Saturdays are the most stressful days for Finns. Christmas is the most stressful time of the year. People are really charged up right after summer.
  • Stress can be positive (sometimes called eustress). Stress is a part of life and helps us perform in demanding situations. Sympathetic nervous system kicks in the fight or flight response, elevates the heart rate and makes you present in the current moment. Problems emerge when people can’t turn it off. Your body keeps going even tough you’re already in bed and trying to sleep.
  • Stress has a cognitive impact too, because blood moves out of the brain. This can be seen in orienteering; it’s harder to read the map while you’re running. This is why military forces train their troops to follow orders precisely without question. Combat environment is a highly stressful situation. You can lose all your ability to think. All the soldiers have is their trainning. Only a fraction of people can still think clearly in extremely stressful situations

Firstbeat device

  • Stress is measured with heart rate variability (HRV). It means the variation in the time interval between hearbeats and is measured in the millisecond level.
  • Slightly unintuitively: more the variation, less the stress. Less variation, more stress. Heart is not supposed to beat like a metronome.
  • Proverb: If a man’s heart beats like a droplet in a cave to water, death is near.
  • Balance of the autonomic nervous system can be measured from HRV. Sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the fight or flight response, parasympatethic nervous system handles the rest and digest type of functions.
  • Vagus nerve controls our heart functions and digestive track. Stress can block it.
  • Sleep is our main source for recovery. Most of our time we spend awake and we should find ways to recover during those hours.
  • Good methods for recovery during the day are deep breathing, 5-10 breaths, meditation, mindfullness exercises and just to stop whatever we’re doing.
  • Deep breaths can activate parasympathetic nervous system and increase HRV.
  • Low heart rate correlates to high HRV. Low heart rate and low HRV is possible for overtrained athletes.
  • Breathwork is a great tool to fight stress, but not mandatory. The solution can be a more peaceful workroutine. Some people relax through routine tasks.
  • Positive stress is something we can deal with and turn it off. Nevertheless it’s still physiological stress. If we go overboard we can burn out without proper recovery.
  • The goal of life is not recover as much as possible, but body should respond to the chance of having a break.
  • Read how acupressure mat affects recovery from Firstbeat’s blog

Firstbeat results

Analysis of Teemu’s data:

  • A control was done a month before a busy period (imaged above).
  • Teemu’s workload was very heavy during the last portion of the Firstbeat Assessment.
  • The graph shows red as stress, green as recovery and blue as exercise. Usually the red is default for day time, but recovery is possible during waking hours through deep breathing exercises and meditation. It’s okay to go to red as long as there are some green here and there.
  • Listen to the podcast for the analysis on Teemu’s results.
  • Continuous HRV measurement (beyond periodic Firstbeat analysis) is best achieved by using a sleep sensor that has HRV functionality. Teemu also used Emfit sleep sensor to track his HRV during the Firstbeat analysis period. The sleep tracker correlated nicely with the results obtained from Firstbeat.
Three things to remeber if you want to get better recovery
  1. Alcohol affects sleep quality in a negative way.
  2. Many of us have too much pressure to be fit. If we add hard exercise on top of a stressful day at work, we compromise sleep quality.
  3. Remember to take small breaks during the day.

You can learn more about Firstbeat Analytics at Firstbeat.com. Finnish customers, get your assessment here.

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