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Heart Rate Variability Training and Control of Emotions

Fountoulakis, Charalampos (2019) Heart Rate Variability Training and Control of Emotions. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This thesis outlines an investigation into the effects of heart rate variability training (HRVT) on stress and performance, and participants’ experiences of undertaking HRVT. Data were collected from male Middle-Eastern adolescent student-athletes. Study 1 examined the acute effects of a single 20-minute HRVT session on performance under pressure. Thirty-six participants completed a reactive stress tolerance test after both HRVT and a control condition (group discussion about pre-competition routines). Completing HRVT did not improve performance. Study 2 built on Study 1 by exploring the effects of a 5-week HRVT protocol consisting of five lab-based and five home-based 20-minute HRVT sessions on biomarkers of the stress response. Fifty-seven participants were randomly assigned to an experimental (n=30) and a control (n=27) group, comprising five educational sessions. There were acute effects of HRVT on a-amylase levels within each session, with a-amylase levels decreasing over the course of the session. Both cortisol and a-amylase levels reduced over the course of the 5-week HRVT protocol. There were significantly lower cortisol levels and skin conductance levels in the experimental compared to the control group at the end of the training programme. Study 3 focused on the reflections of 22 participants who took part in the HRVT programme in Study 2. Participants proposed that apart from the identification of the individualized resonant breathing frequency, the customization of the inhalation-exhalation ratio is highly related to the participants’ experience. That change to the HRVT programme may further enhance effectiveness, and, that effectiveness can be increased by practicing it regularly and including it as part of a pre-competition routine.

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