Heart rate variability is enhanced during mindfulness practice: A randomized controlled trial involving a 10-day online-based mindfulness intervention

PLoS One. 2020 Dec 17;15(12):e0243488. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0243488. eCollection 2020.


Objectives: The goal of the present study was to probe the effects of mindfulness practice in a naturalistic setting as opposed to a lab-based environment in the presence of continuous heart rate variability (HRV) measurements. The specific experimental goals were to examine the effects of a brief 10-day online-based mindfulness intervention on both chronic and acute HRV responses.

Method: We conducted a fully randomized 10-day longitudinal trial of mindfulness practice, explicitly controlling for practice effects with an active-control group (music listening) and a non-intervention control group. To assess chronic cardiovascular effects, we asked participants in the 3 groups to complete 2-day HRV pre- and post-intervention measurement sessions. Using this experimental setup enabled us to address training effects arising from mindfulness practice to assess physiological impact on daytime as well as nighttime (i.e. assessing sleep quality) on the underlying HRV response. To assess acute cardiovascular effects, we measured HRV in the 2 active intervention groups during each of the 10 daily mindfulness or music sessions. This allowed us to track the development of purported training effects arising from mindfulness practice relative to the active-control intervention in terms of changes in the HRV slope over the 10-day time-course.

Results: Firstly, for the acute phase we found increased HRV during the daily practice sessions in both the mindfulness and active-control group indicating that both interventions were effective in decreasing acute physiological stress. Secondly, for the chronic phase we found increased HRV in both the day- and nighttime indicating increased sleep quality, specifically in the mindfulness group.

Conclusion: These results suggest causal effects in both chronic and acute phases of mindfulness practice in formerly naïve subjects and provides support for the argument that brief online-based mindfulness interventions exert positive impact on HRV.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adult
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / pathology
  • Chronic Disease
  • Electrophysiology
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mindfulness / methods*
  • Music
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Sleep / physiology
  • Stress, Psychological

Grants and funding

This work was supported by a grant to U.K. from Velliv Foreningen (award number 71568). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.