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Benefits of Increased Vagal Tone

Benefits of Increased Vagal Tone

Many of us strive for good physical and mental health, but achieving it can be easier said than done. One way to help improve our overall well-being is by increasing our vagal tone – the vagus nerve activity regulating emotion, heart rate, digestion, and brain clarity. While improving your vagal tone may not seem like a priority on the surface, numerous benefits are associated with doing so. In this blog post, we will explore exactly why increased vagal tone can benefit your overall health and well-being, providing you with an improved quality of life both now and in the future.

The Basics of the Vagus Nerve

It's helpful to start by understanding what the vagus nerve is and why increased vagal tone positively affects our bodies. The vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps regulate body systems when the body is resting or relaxed. It's one of 12 cranial nerves, the longest cranial nerve, running from the brain stem down to the abdomen.

Increased vagal tone can significantly affect several of your bodily functions and systems. For example, when increased vagal tone occurs, there is increased activity in the vagus nerve, leading to improved digestion, increased heart rate variability (HRV), better emotional stability, and more clarity in thinking—let's explore these benefits next!

What Are the Benefits of Increased Vagal Tone?

There are many reasons why increased vagal tone is beneficial for our overall well-being. 

Some of these benefits include:

Improved emotional regulation

Increasing your vagal tone can better regulate your emotions and reactions to external stimuli. This means you will have an easier time staying calm and composed in difficult situations and avoiding overreactions or unnecessary stress.

Relax and recover from stress faster

When your vagal tone increases, it helps your body relax and recover from stress faster. This means that you won't feel as drained or overwhelmed by difficult situations and can bounce back more quickly when things don't go your way.

Improve heart health

Increasing vagal tone is also beneficial for your heart health. Better vagal tone can decrease heart rate variability (HRV), decreasing the risk of arrhythmias and other cardiac issues. Additionally, higher levels of HRV are associated with better cardiovascular health overall.

Reduced inflammation

Another benefit of increased vagal tone is that it can reduce inflammation in the body. This is because higher vagal tone decreases inflammatory markers such as interleukin-6 and cortisol, which are linked to many chronic illnesses and diseases.

Better digestion

Finally, higher levels of vagal tone can lead to better digestive health. Higher vagal tone improves gut motility, meaning food passes through your system more quickly and efficiently. This helps prevent bloating, constipation, and other digestive issues while improving overall gut health. Those with serious digestive issues such as IBS may find increased vagal tone to be especially helpful.

Low Vagal Tone Symptoms

It can be tough to pinpoint low vagal tone, as increased vagal tone is often an invisible factor in our overall health and well-being. However, some symptoms are associated with low levels of vagal tone that could help you identify it. Some of these symptoms include increased heart rate, increased anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and digestive issues such as bloating and constipation.

How Can You Increase Vagal Tone?

Now that you know the benefits of increased vagal tone, you might wonder how to increase it. Fortunately, there are many simple strategies that you can use to help improve your overall vagal tone, and we'll tell you about five of them right now:

  • Deep or diaphragmatic breathing
  • Singing, humming, chanting, or gargling
  • Cold exposure
  • Omega-3s
  • Social interaction
  • Deep or diaphragmatic breathing

  • Have you ever heard of "belly breathing" or "diaphragmatic breathing"? This type of deep, slow breathing activates the vagus nerve and helps to increase your overall vagal tone. Interestingly, it has been used for centuries in many cultures! It involves taking slow, deep breaths from the diaphragm rather than shallow breaths from the chest. 

    Diaphragmatic breathing increases oxygen intake and helps activate the vagus nerve, which leads to improved relaxation, concentration and focus, sleep quality, and overall health. Additionally, it can help regulate emotions like fear, anger, sadness, and stress, which can reduce anxiety levels. Practicing diaphragmatic breathing regularly is a powerful way to reduce stress levels and improve both physical and mental health.

  • Singing, humming, chanting, or gargling

  • Singing, humming, chanting, or gargling are all activities that activate the vagus nerve and help to increase your overall vagal tone. This is due to their ability to stimulate certain brain areas connected to the nervous system. Additionally, these activities can help reduce anxiety levels and improve mood by releasing neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, which help regulate emotions.

  • Cold exposure

  • This might not be everyone's favorite activity, but cold exposure is a good way to activate the vagus nerve and increase vagal tone. When exposed to cold temperatures, the body's natural response is to initiate vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels), which then increases blood pressure and heart rate variability. This, in turn, increases vagal tone and can lead to improved heart health, better digestion, and lower inflammation levels.

  • Omega-3s

  • Adding more omega-3 fatty acids to your diet is another option to boost vagal tone. Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that help reduce inflammation in the body and improve overall health. You might choose to take an omega-3 supplement or include more omega-3-rich foods in your diet, such as fish, nuts, and seeds.

  • Social interaction

  • Finally, social interactions can also help to increase vagal tone. This is because social interactions activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to relax the body and reduce stress levels. This can improve mood, reduce anxiety levels, and improve overall health.

    Vagus Nerve Stimulation

    Along with the strategies we've just covered for increased vagal tone, you can also do many things to stimulate the vagus nerve.

    The vagus nerve runs from the brain to the stomach and sends signals from the brain to other organs. Stimulating this nerve can help improve digestion, reduce inflammation, and promote relaxation.

    How to Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve

    Here are six ways to stimulate the vagus nerve that you can try from the comfort of your own home:

    • Meditation
    • Exercise
    • Massage
    • Music
    • Cold-water immersion
    • tVNS

    Meditation

    New to meditation? Don't overlook its ability to activate the vagus nerve! Meditation can help reduce stress levels, improve relaxation, and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, increasing vagal tone.

    Exercise

    Regular exercise is another great way to stimulate the vagus nerve. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, neurotransmitters that can help reduce stress levels and improve overall well-being. Additionally, increased physical activity can lead to increased heart rate variability, which in turn helps to activate the vagus nerve and increase overall vagal tone.

    Massage

    Getting a massage is also an effective way to relax your body and stimulate the vagus nerve. Massages help release muscle tension, increase blood circulation, and promote relaxation, which all contribute to increased vagus nerve activation.

    Music

    Listening to music can also stimulate the vagus nerve and increase your overall vagal tone. As a result, music can help reduce stress levels, improve mood, and even boost cognitive function. Additionally, certain types of music, such as classical or chill-out tunes, can be especially effective at stimulating the vagus nerve.

    Cold-water immersion

    We've already talked about cold exposure, but now let's talk about cold-water immersion specifically. Cold-water immersion is an awesome way to activate the vagus nerve and increase overall vagal tone. This is because the body's natural response to cold temperatures can include increased heart rate variability, leading to increased activation of the vagus nerve.

    There are even groups of people who gather around bodies of water to practice cold-water immersion as a way to increase their vagal tone.

    tVNS

    Finally, transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS) is another effective method of stimulating the vagus nerve and increasing its tone. This is done with a vagus nerve stimulation device that sends electrical impulses to stimulate the vagus nerve. 

    This type of electrical vagus nerve stimulation makes VNS more accessible to the masses as an effective alternative to surgical VNS. While there are certainly medical conditions and cases where surgical vagus nerve stimulation is warranted, this less invasive option is also worth considering for many people.

    For example, the use of the Xen by Neuvana device targets the vagus nerve through the ear with special headphones. First, users connect these headphones to their handheld Xen device, which syncs with their phone. Then, they control their VNS sessions from a smartphone app.

    FAQs About Increased Vagal Tone and The Vagus Nerve

    Next, let's answer some of your burning questions about increased vagal tone and the vagus nerve.

    What is vagal tone?

    Vagal tone refers to the activity of your vagus nerve, a part of the parasympathetic nervous system. It is largely responsible for connecting the brain to major organs such as the heart, lungs, digestive tract, and spleen. Vagal tone influences many bodily functions, including digestion rate, blood pressure regulation, facial expressions, temperature control, etc. 

    Low vagal tone can lead to various issues, such as fatigue, difficulty regulating emotions, and digestive problems. In contrast, increased vagal tone often leads to better physical and mental health benefits overall.

    What is increased vagal tone?

    Increased vagal tone is the result of increased activity in the vagus nerve. It is associated with better physical and mental health outcomes such as improved mood, relaxation, digestion, energy levels, and more. Increased vagal tone can be achieved through various lifestyle strategies such as exercise, massage, music, or cold-water immersion, as well as transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS).

    How does increased vagal tone affect heart rate?

    Increased vagal tone typically leads to lower heart rate variability, which then results in a slower resting heart rate. This type of bradycardia (slow heartbeat) is often seen in individuals who have increased their overall strength and condition of their vagus nerve.

    Here's how one 2008 article published in AHA Journals explains it:

    "Resting heart rate in a normal heart generally is governed by a parasympathetic mechanism. Epidemiological data indicate that the resting heart rate, a measure of vagus nerve function, predicts mortality. The higher the vagus nerve activity is, the slower the heart rate is, the greater the increase in the parasympathetic component of heart rate variability is, and the better the outcome is. In HF, heart rate is less regulated by parasympathetic activation. A summary of data on resting heart rate and cardiovascular disease indicates a robust relationship between increased heart rate and adverse outcomes."

    How can I stimulate my vagus nerve at home?

    There are several ways to stimulate your vagus nerve at home. 

    Exercising, deep breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, and massage are some of the best methods for increased vagal tone. You can also try using cold-water immersion to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system. 

    Finally, transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation with a device like Xen by Neuvana is another effective method of stimulating the vagus nerve without resorting to surgical VNS.

    Final Thoughts on Increased Vagal Tone

    Increased vagal tone has been linked to many physical and mental health benefits, such as improved digestion, relaxation, better mood, and energy levels. It can be increased through lifestyle strategies like exercise, massage, and transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS). 

    There are also more invasive options available if you're suffering from serious medical conditions like treatment-resistant depression or epilepsy. But if you don't have a serious illness and simply want to feel better, there are far less invasive ways to achieve increased vagal tone!

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