We continue to bring you stories about how people improve their wellbeing tracking and analyzing their health data.  We have already posted the story about a woman who got happier and lost weight. Today we are going to talk about Mark who boosted his willpower and started doing sports.

Mark Leavitt is an engineer and a physician. In his retirement he continues to apply his knowledge to keep himself healthy. His two main goals are to improve his body and mind and to get more control and influence over his habits and behaviour.

Mark starts his story by going back to when he was 7 years old. He was a skinny kid and his parents pounded into his head: “eat all your food, don’t get hurt, study hard.”

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50 years later Mark is 57. He definitely eats all his food, his body mass index (BMI) is 29 when the normal range is 18-25. He has never got hurt because he has an absolutely sedentary lifestyle. And he did get good education. 🙂

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The same month when this picture was taken Mark got cardiovascular examination and it didn’t look great. That was when he realised that it was time to change his eating and non-exercise habits.  As a professional he decided to apply the knowledge that he acquired in college. He has engineering and medical education. As an engineer, he devised a feedback loop: plan, track, analyze, refine.

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In other words, here is how Mark arranged this cycle: an action — changes in results — conclusions.

As a physician, Mark thought that besides the standard data like weight changes, walking activity, etc. he should also track his heartbeat. Because the heartbeat is a treasure chest of information about what is going on with your body. This is because the heart is regulated by two main branches of the autonomic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system which functions during stress and speeds the heart up, and the parasympathetic nervous system which is active during rest and slows the heart rate down.

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If you want to know more about how the autonomic nervous system works, we have already posted about this. In a nutshell, the higher the variability, i.e. the changes in the heartbeat rate, the healthier the body. Heart rate variability (HRV) can identify diseases before they even manifest themselves. HRV data can show how trained your body is. Many researchers discovered a correlation between HRV and willpower. It was also shown that HRV increases even during meditation.

Mark wondered, could he measure his willpower every day?

He used a small heart rate sensor. The device worked through Bluetooth and transferred data to a program where Mark could analyse it. We offer our customers a similar small and precise heart rate monitors for free depending on the plan they choose.

Then Mark went a step further and integrated his HRV sensor into his workstation at home.

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What has Mark learned from the HRV data for 3 years?

Meditation really works. In the diagram you can see that during his typical session his heart rate goes from 57 to 72 beats per minute. The variability is quite high, the rhythm is regular and in sync with his breathing.

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This was Mark’s goal, to synchronise his breathing and heart rate, that is to learn to regulate his heart rate through breathing.

Look at Mark’s progress over three years. Every point is average HRV-respiration coherence. There is a clear trend, the line goes up.

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You can see that Mark’s physical condition has been improving despite the fact that Mark got 3 years older. By just measuring HRV only you won’t be able to detect it well, but the HRV-respiration coherence analysis showed that there are some improvements.

Physical exercise correlated with Mark’s HRV. The better the figures got the more weight he lifted.

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But there was no correlation with his own weight though.

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This doesn’t mean that Mark’s weight didn’t affect his health. Rather that his HRV didn’t have any impact on how much he ate. In other words, the knowledge that he was getting stronger and healthier motivated him to lift more in the gym but not eat less. 🙂

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That means that Mark needs other life hacks to solve his overweight problems.

Mark’s story was taken from Quantified Self. We collect and study everything that has to do with heart rate variability data application in science, medicine, professional sports and, of course, everyday life. We have confirmed that this method is effective: you can detect cold 4-5 days before you feel ill, find the best time to do sports or simply find out how your work or home environment affects you.

HRV is exactly what our stress and energy level measurement system in the Welltory app is based on.

Have you measured your wellbeing yet? Give it a try — it only takes 2 minutes, you can use your iPhone camera instead of a heart rate monitor. Let us now about your results in the comments section. How does it correspond with how you feel?

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