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No matter how you choose to get and stay fit, chances are good that you want to optimize that method to the best of your ability. While harder, longer workouts and supplements can help, recent research has shown that activating your parasympathetic nervous system is a great way to enhance your performance. Here’s everything you need to know about vagus nerve activation.
Your nervous system consists of your brain, spinal cord, and nerves. Your brain sends messages through your spinal cord to various nerves throughout your body, which allows you to contract a muscle on demand, blink your eyes, or even flinch in the presence of pain. Your nervous system is comprised of two parts: the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems.
Science has proven time and again that proper relaxation can lower your blood pressure, improve your immune system, lower your heart rate, and even slow your breathing. If you’re an athlete or fitness enthusiast, you know it’s important to rest certain muscle groups to allow them to recover fully, too. That’s where vagus nerve activation comes into play.
The vagus nerve is a part of the peripheral nervous system, which consists of nerves that fan out through your body. It’s part of a group of nerves called cranial nerves; these nerves exit directly from your brain rather than from your spine. This one, specifically, is the 10th cranial nerve, and it exits directly from your medulla, which is part of your brain stem. Activating your vagus nerve is vital for improving the function of your parasympathetic nervous system, and this activation also helps to shut down the sympathetic nervous system.
Although some medical professionals offer stimulation procedures that involve sending very mild electrical shocks through the nerve, vagus nerve activation can also be achieved at home. There are several simple activities that have been shown to improve the function of the vagus nerve.
For most people, the sympathetic nervous system remains active for most of their waking hours, which leads to stress, weight gain, and poor health. Vagus nerve activation can combat this by allowing your body to fully relax, which can help speed post-workout recovery, cut back on stress hormones like cortisol, reduce inflammation, and even improve your sleep quality.