Home » Heart Rate » How to Support the Vagus Nerve and Improve Heart Rate Variability (HRV)?
The vagus nerve is the largest autonomic nerve, innervating nearly all of the body’s organs. Innervation is the process of supplying nerves to other organs or parts of the body. The vagus nerve stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and reduces stress by elevating levels of both oxytocin and acetylcholine (the calming neurotransmitter). This nerve is a long cranial nerve that extends from the brainstem to the abdomen. It plays a key role in regulating one’s heart rate and blood pressure, and has a strong influence on the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps regulate the body’s rest and digest functions. Refer to the diagram below for the basic anatomy and functions of the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve is a key component of the parasympathetic nervous system, and it plays an important role in controlling HRV. When the vagus nerve is stimulated, it sends signals to the heart to slow down and relax, which therein leads to an increase in HRV. Conversely, when the vagus nerve is not functioning properly, or is inhibited, HRV tends to be low.
In short, yes. Increasing vagal tone activates the parasympathetic nervous system, and a higher vagal tone allows the body to relax more quickly after stress. So, how does one achieve this?
Other research backed ways to stimulate the vagus nerve and improve heart rate variability are:
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One of the easiest and most effective ways of stimulating vagus nerve is through slow, deep breathing. Other natural methods include walking outdoors, taking cold water baths, and drinking more water.
Vagus nerve stimulation activates the parasympathetic system (rest and digest mode). This decreases the heart rate and improves HRV.
Many wearable devices, such as chest strap heart monitors and smartwatches, have built-in HRV sensors that can measure HRV throughout the day. It’s important to keep in mind that the accuracy of HRV measurements can vary depending on the method used.
Several factors can affect the vagus nerve, including stress, anxiety, physical activity, sleep, and diet.
Yes, the vagus nerve can be damaged due to certain medical conditions or as a result of medical procedures. Damage to the vagus nerve can result in a range of symptoms, including difficulty swallowing, hoarseness, and changes in heart rate and blood pressure.
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