I have a confession. I am completely obsessed with my Garmin fitness watch. Fitbit, Nike, Apple and all the other companies producing wearables may occasionally release some bells and whistles that may ever so briefly tempt me, I have never once seriously considered switching brands. I dare say that I shall be loyal to the Garmin brand until the day I die. Now that, my friends, is what commitment looks like.
Currently, I am on my fourth Garmin watch – the Garmin Forerunner 935 and this watch is a total BEAST. Any possible metric or piece of data you could fathom related to swimming, cycling, running (and other random sports) can be given to you by this watch as well as keeping track of your overall activity during the day, the quality of your sleep, your heart rate, and now it can even provide a measure of your stress level at any given time.
The stress score is just now starting to be offered on a handful of fitness tracking devices and is based on a measure called your heart rate variability. In a nutshell, heart rate variability is the variance in time between each heart beat, and it can tell you a lot about the state of your heart health and your stress. It is an indication of your heart’s ability to vary the rate at which it beats – which is a good thing. At times, like when we are exercising, we need our hearts to beat faster to deliver blood and oxygen to working muscles and organs. During times of rest and low activity we want our heart rate to be lower as well. Thus, having a high degree of heart rate variability is a health indication and means that your heart is highly capable of self regulating to the demands of its environment.
The reason this all matters is that stress lowers our heart rate variability. The stress response keeps us feeling ‘keyed up’ even at times that do not necessitate our heart be working that hard. The scary thing is that we may be under low levels of stress without even being aware of it.
Take me, for example. I generally feel like I have a fairly good grasp on my stress. I know the sources that tend to cause stress in my life and I know the things I need to do in order to manage and reduce it. At least I thought I did. Over the past several weeks since Garmin introduced the stress indicator on their fitness watches, I have found that I am far more stressed than I thought I was. Now I’m not talking the major spikes in stress that are easily recognizable; I’m talking about a fairly constant lower level of stress that I was not even aware of.
The funny (or maybe scary) thing is that the more I became aware of my level of stress, the more it would stress me out. I will grant you that this watch is most likely not the be all end all when it comes to measuring one’s true health status, but still there is good reason to believe that it is not all that far off base.
All of this has led me to ask two key questions: 1. Am I really as in tune with myself as I thought I was? and 2. Do I need to check in with myself more often? If my stress readouts over the last couple of weeks are any indication, the answers to those questions are ‘not even close’ and ‘hell yes.’
I would go out on a limb to say that this holds true for the vast majority of generally fitness and health seeking people and even more so for those who do not take an active roll in their health. I think there is a tendency to assume that because there are no major signs or indicators of stress or something negatively impacting our health that we must be doing pretty well, especially if we generally eat right and keep active. There is, unfortunately, a pretty big flaw in this thinking, because as we know, there are numerous sub threshold indicators that tell us when our health is at a suboptimal state. We may not see or feel them, but they are there. Moreover, because we tend not to feel them and therefore they must not exist, we do a pretty lousy job of checking in with ourselves.
At this point, you may be thinking something along the lines of ‘So what?’ and/or “What’s the point?” The point is that you may not be doing as well as you think you are. As health conscious, fitness seeking individuals, we frequently strive to be the best version of ourselves. We need to apply this same thinking across the whole spectrum of our health because, guess what, aspects of our overall health affect our performance as well in both subtle and overt ways. If we truly want to be at our best, mentally and physically, we need to learn to check in with ourselves far more frequently than we do. What indicators might exist in your life that are going unnoticed?
Get Fit For It, Beth