Doing so is no magic cure. However I think heart rate (HR) monitoring really helps me to recognize when I am in danger of doing more than my body can manage.
As Prof VanNess explained when he spoke in N.Ireland, the aerobic respiration pathways are broken in ME patients. So the general aim for us is to avoid all aerobic exercise. He suggested keeping HR below 110 beats per minute (bpm) as a useful starting point.
Put simply, “aerobic exercise” is any activity that raises breathing rate, and causes the heart to beat faster. It is also the type of exercise that is recommended for the general population in order to optimize their health!
However as many people with ME know even small exertions can take a disproportionate toll on our body systems. “Exercise”, in the conventional sense, is unhelpful at best and potentially harmful at worst.
So what can we do? On the one hand we want to keep as fit and well as we can, and on the other we want to prevent further harm caused by over-exertion.
Prof VanNess suggested that using a HR monitor would enable us to recognise when an activity was becoming a problem. He suggested stopping mid-activity if necessary, and only continuing once HR had come back down again.
In practice this is much more difficult than it sounds!
Some monitors, like my Mio Alpha, have an alarm feature that alerts the wearer when HR goes up. I found this helpful to learn how my body feels when HR is high, but I disliked the intrusion so intensely, that I now rarely turn the alarm on. I prefer to keep an eye on my HR by simply glancing at the read out.
At it’s simplest HR monitoring means watching for the activities that overly raise HR and then either working out how to modify the activity, or taking a decision to avoid it. There are many little changes that can be made to activities to help keep HR low and experimenting, whilst wearing a monitor, can help you to find these tweaks.
Yet, starting with a monitor can be a bit scary, because suddenly you will now “see” all those high HR figures, that previously you didn’t ever record.
So it is worth taking a bit of time to find out what is “normal” for you.
In my experience I can get some very high HR spikes, but these fall again fairly quickly when I rest. My doctor has reassured me that so long as they fall quickly then I should not be too concerned with the momentary spikes.
More of a concern are activities that cause a sustained raised HR. Sadly for me any activity that involves any sort of excitement causes this drawn-out effect. I’m guessing it is the effect of adrenalin.
And this is where good resting and relaxation habits can help. Currently my favourite calming activity is listening to David Attenborough’s autobiography on Audible. Going somewhere quiet, lying down, and just listening helps me to quiet my mind and body - and my heart rate gradually reduces as a result.
I have lots more to say on my experiences using a HR monitor, but for today I’ll end with just a couple more thoughts:
If you are just starting with a HR monitor, then I suggest that you continue to manage your activities in the manner that you already know works for you. Don’t make any radical changes.
Treat your HR monitor as a friend to help you make adjustments to what you do, but forgive yourself when you can’t keep HR entirely within the desired parameters. Being totally honest here - I can’t do it! However it is possible to minimize the duration of those higher HR periods and I think, maybe that is good enough.
PS I’m happy to answer questions about how I use HR monitoring, however I am not able to look at other people’s data and express an opinion, so please don’t ask me, ask your doctor. Thank you for understanding. xx
You may also find these posts interesting:
Heart Rate Monitoring Posts:
Heart Rate Monitoring: Numbers Dec 2015
Heart Rate Monitoring & NICE Guideline for ME Nov 2015
Rhythm+ and Endomondo: HR monitoring for ME Aug 2014
A few notes on using a HR Monitor for Pacing Feb 2014
Thoughts on "Exercise" and ME:
Graded Exercise Therapy? No Thank You! Sept 2015
The Exercise Catch 22! Jul 2014
ME Awareness - Why NOT Exercise? May 2014
The Dilemmas of Exercise and M.E. Dec 2013
"Play-Up & Lay-Up" not "Boom & Bust" Sept 2014
Circles of Influence & ME Aug 2015
Do you STOP soon enough? March 2015
POST Emptive Rest June 2015
Useful Links elsewhere:
Pacing By Numbers by Bruce CampbellExercise Testing and Using a Heart Rate Monitor by Jennifer Spotila
FaceBook Group ME/CFS - Pacing with a Heart Rate Monitor