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Heart rate variability

The autonomic nervous system, which regulates heart rate, is controlled by the central nervous system through a complex network of neurons comprising both prefrontal and limbic structures.
All these elements are interconnected and allow data to flow in both directions between the superior and the inferior parts of the central nervous system

A reliable indicator
of our ability to
regulate emotions

Heart rate variability appears as an excellent indicator to evaluate the activity of the autonomic nervous system, both at the peripheral and central levels. It is also an indicator of the dynamic balance between the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system.

Thus, heart rate variability is a reliable indicator of our ability to regulate emotions.

The autonomic nervous system sends messages through the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. These systems act on the heart respectively through the stellar ganglion and the vagus nerve. The interaction of these messages towards the sinoauricular node is responsible for normal cardiac variability, which can be measured by monitoring heart rate variability. Heart rate is primarily controlled by vagal activity. Sensorial data coming from the heart are fed back to the central nervous system. Heart rate variability is an indicator of both how the central nervous system regulates the autonomic nervous system, and of how peripheral neurons feed information back to the central level.

This circuit can be considered as an “emotional circuit” allowing to quickly adjust physiological and behavioral responses to emotions.

A central autonomous system involving the prefrontal cortex, the limbic system and the spinal cord, plays a key role in the autonomic system that allows to regulate emotions and to adjust to external stimuli. This central system, conversely, directly receives data from the heart, so as to allow the brain to adjust its emotional response. When this system is rigid, the response is likely to be less adaptative.

Defective vagal control of the heart leads to sympathetic hyperactivity, associated with stress, fear, anxiety, and several emotions that are detrimental to our health.