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What’s A Good Heart Rate Variability?

Average HRV Values By Age, Sex + Activity Level

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Measuring heart rate variability (HRV) has become an increasingly popular metric to monitor your stress levels, nervous system balance, recovery status, and your body’s “readiness to train“ if you are an athlete.

But, what is a good heart rate variability? Does the average heat rate variability change with age? Is it good to have a high HRV or a low HRV?

According to CardioMood, a “good HRV” generally falls between 60-100ms but varies depending on a person’s age, fitness level, and overall health. 

In this guide, we will discuss what HRV means and how to measure it, as well as provide a table of good heart rate variability values for all ages and sexes.

A person looking at their fitness watch.

What Is HRV?

Before we look at what a good heart rate variability is by age and sex, let’s review what heart rate variability is.

When you take your pulse or look at a heart rate monitor during exercise or at rest to see your heart rate, you get a value that represents the average number of times your heart is beating per minute. 

So, for example, if your resting heart rate is 60 beats per minute (bpm), your heart will beat 60 times in one minute.

However, unlike a metronome set at a tempo of 60 bpm—in which every single beat will occur exactly 1 second apart—there is some variability in the amount of time between each heartbeat. 

This variability in the intervals or spacing between two successive heartbeats is known as your heart rate variability, or HRV for short.

For example, with a heart rate of 60 bpm, instead of each heartbeat occurring exactly 1 second apart, you might have an interval of 0.9 seconds between two heartbeats.

Then, there is a 1.2-second gap between the next heartbeat, 0.8 seconds before the next heartbeat, and so on. 

The difference in the number of milliseconds between each heartbeat is your heart rate variability (HRV). Therefore, HRV is a biometric that measures fluctuations in the steadiness of your heart rate.

A monitor at a hospital.

What Is a Good Heart Rate Variability?

Intuitively, most people assume that a lower HRV score is better.

After all, the heart is often known as a “pacemaker,“ and we certainly don’t want an erratic heartbeat, so a very steady heart rate with little to no fluctuation or variability in the pacing of heartbeats sounds ideal.

However, the less consistent your heartbeat from beat to beat, the better your nervous system health.

Indeed, research demonstrates that a high heart rate variability indicates that your heart is “ready” to handle various physiological and emotional stressors, such as vigorous exercise or just everyday stress.1Tiwari, R., Kumar, R., Malik, S., Raj, T., & Kumar, P. (2020). Analysis of Heart rate Variability and Implication of Different Factors on Heart Rate Variability. Current Cardiology Reviews16. https://doi.org/10.2174/1573403×16999201231203854

Your heart rate variability is ultimately a result of the instantaneous differences in the autonomic control of your heart rate.

The parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest”) is associated with higher heart rate variability because fluctuations in the spacing between heartbeats increase more dramatically when the body and brain are relaxed. 

However, heart rate variability is low when the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) predominantly controls the body (the “fight-or-flight response”). 

Control by this branch of the autonomic nervous system leads to a more steady and consistent heart rhythm.

You can measure your heart rate variability with fitness trackers such as the Apple watch, Garmin devices, The Whoop chest strap, and the Oura ring.

An app that measures heart rate.

Average HRV Values By Age, Sex, and Activity Level

There aren’t any official standards or norms for HRV for women vs men or HRV averages by age.

Across the population, heart rate variability tends to decline with age and be slightly lower in females. HRV tends to be higher in athletes and trained individuals2Deus, L. A., Sousa, C. V., Rosa, T. S., Filho, J. M. S., Santos, P. A., Barbosa, L. D., Silva Aguiar, S., Souza, L. H. R., & Simões, H. G. (2019). Heart rate variability in middle-aged sprint and endurance athletes. Physiology & Behavior205, 39–43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2018.10.018 because regular exercise improves heart health.

Lifestyle behaviors such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, chronic insufficient sleep, stress, and poor diet can cause a low HRV.

The decline in HRV with age is attributed to a decrease in parasympathetic nervous system activity with age, along with the increased prevalence of chronic health conditions and a more sedentary lifestyle seen in seniors, all of which can decrease heart rate variability.

WHOOP, a company that designs and manufactures wearable devices, aggregated HRV measurement data from their users and put together what constitutes a good HRV for men and women by age.3Average HRV by Age, Gender | Normal HRV Range for Men & Women. (2021, January 20). WHOOP. https://www.whoop.com/us/en/thelocker/normal-hrv-range-age-gender/

Across all WHOOP HRV data, the average heart rate variability for men is 65 ms, while the most common HRV for men is 40 ms (this would be the “mode” of the HRV data for men). The average HRV for women is 62 ms, while the most common HRV for women is 37 ms.

A person looking at their fitness tracker.

The large discrepancies in the average HRV for men and women versus the most common HRV for men or women are because a statistical average—the mean—of a data set is greatly influenced by outliers.

For simplicity, imagine there are ten men. Nine of the men have an HRV of 40 ms, but one man has an HRV of 100 ms.

The one outlier—the 100 ms HRV—would bring the statistical average HRV for men in this group to 46 ms, even though the vast majority of the men in the sample had an HRV below 46 ms.

The mode refers to the most common HRV for men or women in the data set (the HRV number that occurs most frequently), which can be a better indicator of the most “normal heart rate variability” value.

The approximate average HRV by age and sex according to the WHOOP users are displayed in the HRV chart below:

AgeAverage HRV for Women (ms)Average HRV for Men (ms)
2055-10858-110
2548-9548-92
3040-8045-85
3538-6840-72
4032-6235-65
4530-5832-58
5030-5530-52
5528-5030-50
6025-4526-50
People taking their heart rate.

These HRV averages by age are similar to the average HRV by age, according to CardioMood.4Stas, P. (2023, June 17). WHAT IS A GOOD HRV BY AGE AND HOW TO IMPROVE IT? – WHAT IS A GOOD HRV BY AGE AND HOW TO IMPROVE IT? CardioMood. https://cardiomood.com/2023/06/17/what-is-a-good-hrv-by-age/

‌While CardioMood HRV norms are also pulled from a large pool of users, the average HRV norms are only presented by age and not separated by sex, so it’s a little hard to compare directly.

CardioMood states that a “good HRV” generally falls between 60-100ms but varies depending on a person’s age, fitness level, and overall health. 

Age GroupAverage HRV
18-2562-85 ms
26-3555-75 ms
36-4550-70 ms
46-5545-65 ms
56-6542-62 ms
66+40-60 ms

One of the largest population studies (over 150,000 people) looking at normal HRV by age and sex was done in the Netherlands.5Tegegne, B. S., Man, T., van Roon, A. M., Snieder, H., & Riese, H. (2020). Reference values of heart rate variability from 10-second resting electrocardiograms: the Lifelines Cohort Study. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology27(19), 2191–2194. https://doi.org/10.1177/2047487319872567

The table below shows the average HRV by age group and sex with the mean and median heart rate variability.

Age Group (years)SexAverage HRV (ms)Median HRV (ms)
13–14Women77.766.5
 Men80.367.4
15–19Women73.860.7
 Men70.859.9
20–24Women64.752.1
 Men57.347.6
25–29Women58.047.5
 Men52.142.3
30–34Women51.642.3
 Men45.436.9
35–39Women46.037.9
 Men39.932.8
40–44Women41.033.9
 Men35.229.0
45–49Women35.629.2
 Men31.626.0
50–54Women31.826.6
 Men28.723.7
55–59Women27.222.5
 Men26.221.0
60–64Women25.220.5
 Men24.819.1
65–69Women22.917.8
 Men24.417.7
70–74Women25.218.3
 Men27.216.0
75+Women24.016.1
A tablet showing heart rate.

Here again, we see dramatic HRV changes with age.

The good news is that there are some things you can potentially do to increase your HRV.

Managing stress, mental health and well-being, mindfulness, following a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, quitting smoking, focusing on hydration, and avoiding excess alcohol are all effective lifestyle practices to increase heart rate variability.

Perhaps most of all, getting consistent exercise has been shown to lead to higher HRV.

For example, a study compared the HRV of a small group of master endurance athletes and a small group of master sprint athletes (with an average age of 51 years) with age-matched sedentary individuals and 25-year-old subjects who were healthy but not athletes.6Deus, L. A., Sousa, C. V., Rosa, T. S., Filho, J. M. S., Santos, P. A., Barbosa, L. D., Silva Aguiar, S., Souza, L. H. R., & Simões, H. G. (2019). Heart rate variability in middle-aged sprint and endurance athletes. Physiology & Behavior205, 39–43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2018.10.018

The results revealed that not only did the master athletes (regardless of whether they were sprint-trained or endurance-trained athletes) have a significantly higher HRV than age-matched sedentary peers, but they also had heart rate variability as high as young healthy subjects. 

A fitness tracker watch.

Although small, this study indicates that lifelong physical activity can attenuate decreases in parasympathetic nervous system function and improve heart rate function and health.

If you have concerns about having a low heart rate variability, arrhythmia, or any other potential health problem, you can speak with your doctor or cardiologist.

For more detailed information on ways to increase your HRV, check out our guide, here!

References

Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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