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Vagally Better®

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Last updated on July 17th, 2024 at 03:59 am

The term “vagal tone” describes the functioning of the vagus nerve, a critical part of the nervous system that regulates the gut-brain connection. A good vagal tone indicates a lower risk of gastrointestinal issues, heart disease, depression, and anxiety. 

The purpose of this post is to describe the significance and benefit of high vagal tone and how to increase yours naturally. By the end of it, you should understand the factors affecting vagal tone and how to measure and test how well your vagus nerve is functioning. 


Understanding the Significance of Vagal Tone

Proper vagal tone is essential for quality of life. People who score highly are less likely to experience debilitating physical symptoms and more likely to display signs of mental resilience. 

The vagus nerve is the longest and most complex of the cranial nerves and runs from the brain to the gastrointestinal tract, forming a communication line between the two. Controlling the vagus nerve may improve various health conditions and enhance your sense of well-being. Generally, the better your vagal tone, the more adaptive you are to environmental challenges


The Benefits of High Vagal Tone

The benefits of a high vagal tone are substantial. Improving the function of your vagus nerve may: 

Researchers believe these positive effects stem from the positive feedback loop between increased vagal tone, positive emotional responses, and overall health and well-being. People who feel good create a healthy chemical environment in their bodies, leading to better long-term outcomes.


Exploring Factors That Affect Vagal Tone

Research suggests multiple factors affect vagal tone, including physiological and lifestyle factors. Understanding these can help inform strategies to improve vagus nerve function over time. 

For example, people with poor sleep have reduced vagal tone. Chronic lack of rest can elevate stress responses, causing nervous system disturbances. 

Continuous stress from work, relationships, or the general challenges of life can also cause poor vagal tone. Excessive activation of the sympathetic nervous system – the part associated with the fight or flight response – can disrupt neuronal signals from the brain. 

Another factor affecting vagal tone is poor breathing patterns or disorders. A lack of diaphragmatic breathing prevents the body from experiencing habitual relaxation, increasing the risk of vagus nerve dysfunction. 

Finally, nutrition can affect vagal tone. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids may improve nervous system health, while those high in sugar and caffeine may worsen it. 


How to Increase Vagal Tone Naturally

The good news is that you can increase vagal tone naturally by adopting the proper techniques. As the previous section indicated, you can increase vagal tone through various easy-to-adopt lifestyle changes and interventions. 

Start Deep Breathing

Deep or diaphragmatic breathing is one of the most profound methods to increase vagal tone naturally. It originates from the ancient Indian practice of pranayama

Start by lying on your back and elevating your legs until you create a 90-degree angle at the knee so your shins look like a bench. Then, begin breathing by expanding the stomach instead of heaving the lungs.

When breathing, take several seconds to inhale and exhale. Repeat ten to twenty times. 

After a short session, notice your heart rate is lower, and you feel calmer. This effect occurs because of changes in the activation of the vagus nerve and other parts of the autonomic nervous system. 

To find out whether you are breathing correctly, you can put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. If you are breathing diaphragmatically, the hand on your chest should stay still while the one on your stomach moves up and down. 

If you can’t breathe through your diaphragm immediately, don’t worry. Eventually, you will get the hang of it. Focus on filling your belly with air instead of heaving it into your chest. 


Spend More Time With Others

You can also significantly improve your vagal tone by spending more time with others. Most humans are social creatures and want to belong to a community, so partaking in regular interactions can help. 

Researchers believe being around others improves vagal tone for several reasons. The first is that it helps us feel safe, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system and deactivates the sympathetic. The other reason is that it gives us an emotional connection with others that makes us feel supported. Being near those who love and appreciate us can reduce stress and soothe negative feelings. 

Consume More Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Another technique for improving vagal tone is to consume more omega-3 fatty acids. You can find these in flax, walnuts, chia seeds, and oily fish. 

Omega-3s have wide-ranging health benefits for the body, but studies show they improve vagal tone by reducing brain inflammation and boosting blood flow. Eat fatty fish once or twice a week, or table a couple of tablespoons of ground flaxseed with oatmeal in the morning.

Cold Exposure

Another method for improving vagal tone is cold exposure. Cold showers and ice plunges paradoxically shift your autonomic nervous system away from stress and into a profound state of relaxation.

While cold exposure feels unpleasant, you can adapt to it. Over time, you will feel more confident in the cold and be able to do more things in it like swim in cold water or run on snow. 


How to Measure and Test Your Vagal Tone

You can measure your vagal tone by tracking various biological parameters

For instance, if you have high heart rate variability, your vagal tone is also high. This means your heart beats slowly when resting and rapidly when exercising. 

You can also explore your breathing rate. Fewer breaths per minute at rest indicate a higher vagal tone. 

Finally, you can measure your basic heart rate at rest. The lower it is, the better your vagal function. 

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