I’m a techie nerd, so whenever I have a chance to try out a cool new gadget that may be able to help my patients improve their health I’m all over it. In a previous post, I wrote about the usefulness of activity tracking devices. These wearable gadgets can help motivate you to get off your bottom and be more active.
- This is important because we now know that you can make your body less conducive to cancer growth by increasing your physical activity throughout the day. Physical activity has also been discovered to be one of the most powerful means of fighting off cancer-related fatigue, reducing stress and depression, strengthening your immune system, and reducing inflammation and free radical production. The more you are active…the better the effects.
Equally as important for my patients is the incorporation of daily stress reducing activities. Calming our mind from the stresses of everyday life is not easy for most of us, however I now have a great way to help teach my patients how to reduce stress using a simple breathing technique and a tiny device that connects to your iPhone and iPad (Android support coming soon.) Once you try it you’ll be hooked.
Why is stress reduction so important?
Did you know that chronic stress is associated with bodily changes that may encourage the growth or recurrence of cancer? Stress hormones wreak havoc on your body. They impair your immune system, increase inflammation, cause insulin resistance, increase free radical production, increase the production of tumor growth factors, and fuel many other cancer promoting effects.
- One of the most prestigious cancer research journals (Nature) published a review of 165 studies on stress and cancer risks, and the authors reported that stress was associated with an increased risk of developing cancer (6-21% increased risk) and dying from cancer (29-133% increased risk) compared with those who do not report significant life stressors.
- In a ground breaking study, a large group of breast cancer survivors were taught stress reduction techniques and followed for over 11 years. In the most recent report on these survivors, the researchers found that the women who learned these techniques (11 years earlier) had 45% fewer breast cancer recurrences and 59% fewer deaths due to breast cancer than the women who were not taught stress reducing techniques.
Not only is stress reduction important for its anti-cancer and numerous other health promoting effects (high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, etc), but it also helps improve nearly every measurable quality of life outcome (anxiety, depression, fatigue, pain, nausea, sleep, etc.)
So what is this device and how does it work?
The device is called the Inner Balance Trainer (by HeartMath), which is essentially a small biofeedback sensor that measures heart rate variability (HRV.)
HRV refers to the tiny beat-to-beat variations in our heart rate, and serves as a measurement of our nervous system activity. HRV has been shown to reflect our nervous system’s ability to adapt to stress. The greater one’s HRV the more resilient they are in being able to cope with moment-to-moment stressors.
With regular practice, you can increase your HRV through breathing exercises that activate the vagus nerve (a major parasympathetic nerve that connects the brain to the heart, lungs and other organs.) Activation of the vagus nerve induces a relaxation response in the brain and body. By slowing down your breathing and focusing on the inhalation and exhalation of the breath you can activate the vagus nerve and induce a state of relaxation within a few minutes.
Modalities such as yoga (specifically, pranayama), meditation and mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) are all focused on helping to calm the mind from the constant barrage of racing thoughts (also known as the “monkey mind“) that contribute to stress, anxiety and depression. Each of these techniques incorporate breathing exercises that allow the mind to focus inward (on the breath) and away from these distracting thoughts.
The following 2 relaxation breathing techniques have been shown to activate the vagus nerve and increase HRV:
- Hold your breath for a brief moment (i.e. 7 seconds) and then slowly exhale (i.e. 8 seconds)
- Breath slowly and regularly (i.e. 4 seconds on the in-breath and 8 seconds on the out-breath); also known as “paced breathing”
There is no question that you don’t NEED to have a gadget to achieve this. However, I find that HRV devices teach you to attain a deeper state of relaxation (while also calming the monkey mind) much more quickly than it takes a novice student of yoga, meditation or MBSR to achieve the same results. If you are a master meditator you will likely not find much benefit from this device.
I have quite a few patients who have no interest in taking yoga, meditation, MBSR or other types of stress reduction classes. For many of them, the Inner Balance Trainer is a more appealing alternative. Increasingly, patients are using devices to assess and track their health (a movement called, “quantified self.”) This device fits in perfectly in the stress reduction realm of the quantified self.
As an integrative oncologist I am a huge supporter of the quantified self movement and the associated gadgets and apps since they increase awareness and motivation to make healthful changes in important aspects of lifestyle (i.e. exercise, stress reduction, diet, sleep, smoking cessation, increased water intake, etc.)
Is The Inner Balance Trainer Easy To Use?
Very easy. Simply download the free app to your iPhone or iPad (from iTunes.) The Android version is coming soon.
On the app, set your desired level of expertise (beginner-to-expert) and your breath pace.
Clip the included heart rate sensor to your earlobe and the microprocessor connector to your iPhone…voila! You can now watch as a multi-colored geometric shape expands and contracts at a pace that guides your breathing.
As you breath with the pacer, your HRV will be displayed in a color-coded fashion (green=high HRV, blue=medium HRV, red=low HRV) to indicate how well you are stimulating the vagus nerve.
Recommended: Practice this 3 times per day for 5-15 minutes.
Interesting fact: Did you know that this same HRV technology is currently being used by our troops to help build resistance from combat stress and as part of the therapeutic regimen for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury?
How Much Does It Cost?
Other Reviews Of The Inner Balance Trainer:
We receive absolutely NO financial or other support from HeartMath or any vendors of this product. This is an educational review only and represents the opinion of Dr Lawenda alone.