Have you ever wondered if there was a way to improve your brain function? The vagus nerve is your solution. According to Self Hacked, vagus is Latin for wanderer. The nerve is called this because it stretches all over the body, connecting your brain to the gut, heart, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, kidney and literally every other part of your body. It is also connected to the areas of the brain that control anxiety and depression, therefore making it one of the most important systems for healthy brain function.
There are several ways you can stimulate the vagus nerve and thus improve your brain function, as well as your overall health. Psychology Today even recommends vagus nerve stimulation for conditioning your mind and body to remain calm and focused in stressful or nerve-wracking situations.
1. Gum chewing. According to Turning Point Nutrition, the mouth produces the most saliva when your mind and body are in a calm state of deep relaxation. To trick your mind and activate your vagus nerve, picture a juicy lemon or chew gum, as recommended by Self Hacked.
2. Fish oil. Regular consumption of omega-3 DHA fish oil improves the response rate of the vagus nerve, according to a study by University of Munich researchers. In other words, fish oil makes people more able to quickly and accurately respond to imbalances connected to the vagus nerve, such as stress and anxiety. The University of Maryland Medical Center explains that omega-3 fatty acids are important for brain memory and performance, as well as behavioral function.
3. Cold water after exercise. Do you love the relief that comes from splashing water on your face after a particularly grueling exercise? Turning Point Nutrition explains doing this activates the vagus nerve and speeds up your body's postexercise recovery program. Harvard Medical School explains regular physical exercise improves memory and thinking skills, so strap on those running shoes and don't forget to immerse your face in cold water after your workout.
4. Yoga. Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine, New York Medical College and the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons found that yoga stimulates the vagus nerve in a way that is particularly helpful to patients suffering from stress-related psychological and medical conditions like depression, anxiety, high blood pressure and cardiac disease. Yoga, which combines aerobic activity and strength training, can harmonize hormones that make a person handle stress more easily, explains Psychology Today.
5. Probiotics. Studies have shown a connection between a healthy gut and functioning brain. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, when your stomach is upset, you are more likely to experience feelings of anxiety and depression. Activate the vagus nerve and improve both your gut and brain health by introducing probiotics into your diet. Probiotics are naturally found in yogurt, as well as fermented foods like kimchi, pickles and kombucha.
6. Meditate. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that certain kinds of meditation can actually improve the responsiveness of the vagus nerve. Time's Health Land explains mediation makes people more able to connect with one another, because the vagus nerve is able to adjust to the tunes of human speech, as well as emotional expressions and eye contact. It also results in the release of oxytocin, a hormone important for social bonding.
7. Self-massage. Tiffany Field, Ph.D. and director of the University of Miami Touch Research Institute, explains in the medical journal Monitor on Psychology that self-massage of any kind stimulates pleasure receptors in the brain, and thus the vagus nerve, which in turn releases serotonin and decreases the stress hormone cortisol. Field recommends something as simple as giving yourself a back massage in the office using a tennis ball or activating your arms and legs with a dowel rod.
8. Deep breathing. Deep breathing is the practice of breathing deeply from the belly and exhaling slowly from a small opening in the mouth. By slowing your breathing to just five to seven breaths per minute (as opposed to the average 10 to 14), you can activate your vagus nerve and enter a state of deep relaxation, according to Turning Point Nutrition. By practicing deep breathing for a few minutes every day, you can improve your memory and fight depression, as well as improve blood pressure, heart rate and the immune system.
The vagus nerve is not often talked about, yet it is one of the essential elements of good health. Practice these techniques of deep breathing, meditation and self-massage, and start incorporating fish oil and probiotics into your daily diet. You may end up having better memory and a calmer state of mind, as well as being more prepared in stressful situations and better able to connect to the ones you love.
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