The Finnish company FirstBeat offers an analysis of 72 hours of continuous Heart Rate Variability measurement, under the name “Firstbeat Life Style Analytics”. Depending on where you buy it the cost might differ, but prepare for somewhere between $200-300. The kit includes the device collecting the data as well as patches to apply on your chest, similar to those used when measuring EKG. I was initially quite skeptical to this way of using HRV, but it turned out to be a very interesting analysis.
What it is
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a metric of your autonomous nervous system, measuring how much stress you are under, although without being able to tell whether this stress is what we would call positive or negative (for more details on the subject, I explain the science behind HRV here).
Firstbeat offers a service where your HRV is measured for 72 hours, which is combined with your input providing full details of the activities of these days. The result is an analysis of how you balance pressure and recovery over these days, and insights in what activities makes you tick and what gives you rest. To get the full goodness out of the analysis it is recommended that you include both days at work and days off to see the contrast, and this was one of the most insightful parts of the report.
The output is presented as a written pdf report and a 30 minutes walkthrough call with an expert guiding you through your results. However, since the hardware and analysis tool is sold at various resellers, I’m assuming this feedback service might differ from place to place.
How to use it
The kit is very user friendly and intuitive to use. It is delivered in a neat box with clear instructions on how to attach the patches on your chest and how to connect the data collecting device. A green light tells you that you have attached it correctly and that everything is set to go. Then all you have to do is leave it on for the next 72 hours, only to remember to remove it if you are to take a shower, go for a swim or – which might be the case more often in Finland – hit the sauna. But no worries, there are many patches included so after your hot sauna session you donate have to reuse the old ones.
In order to be able to connect the collected data with certain activities, you log in and enter the details of your day into a calendar system. Here you state when you have been asleep, at work, and if you wish you can dig down into the details in a separate calendar and enter events such as when you were in meetings or worked out.
After the 72 hours of measuring are done, you put the data device in the provided envelope and put it in the mailbox. Simple and neat.
Some weeks later the result ended up in my email inbox. It consists of a pdf with three pages, quite heavily packed with information that might be a bit intimidating if you don’t know where to start. Day by day you get presented a timeline and the with curves and color coding to represent you stress levels during the day. If we look at the image above we see a day at work, and according to my feedback guy this turned out to be a quite normal picture, with some sort of stress/pressure when we’re awake and then the crucial part is to have good recovery during sleep. The color tells you if you are in a state of stress (red) or recovery (green), and the height shows how much of one of the other you are experiencing at any given time. There is also some blue lines which represents moments of exercise.
There are more to the analysis than the chart, you also get some summaries of of your day in pie charts and some overview of your sleep quality and more. But the main chart is the one shown above, for each day.
The coach call
I thought I was rather good at interpreting and getting the good stuff our of the report, but this was heavily enhanced by the expert call. Having 30 minutes with someone who knows how to read this and what conclusions that can be drawn showed – not surprisingly – to be very informative. Experts are good (no matter what the UK say)! My coach walked me through the report pointing out takeaways such as “here we see a pretty good sleeping pattern that night, due to the height of those bars” and “compared to all these CEOs that I coach, you seem to have a pretty good balance between stress and recovery, especially when at work”. The genius thing with having this call is that is generally rather pleasing to have someone talk about you and care for you for 30 minutes, no matter what they say. I’d value this call to 20% help with understanding the report, 30% getting some conclusions hammered in and 50% feeling good about someone knowledgeable taking the time to coach me.
Well, I had a pretty good experience in the sense that my work-life balance seemed to be pretty good. All in all I found this exercise to be a surprisingly interesting one, and I got some confirmation on being quite the introvert (the only time at work I got green was when closing the door to my office and having time for myself).
If you have or think that you have issues with a work-life balance or that you might push yourself too hard, this is a great tool to get some quantified values on that hunch, which might actually result in you taking action. Recommended.