The health columns is written by a practicing cardiologist, clinical professor at Wayne State University School of Medicine and founder of the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity in Bingham Farms. He's an author and has appeared on national TV, including "Dr. Oz" and "The Doctors Show."
By Dr. Joel Kahn
Feel stressed? Sleep interrupted? Blood pressure up? Digestion not optimal? The longest nerve in our body is called the vagus nerve and controls a powerful pathway called the parasympathetic nervous system.
Having more vagus nerve activity can decrease inflammation, blood pressure, anxiety, heart rate and improve sleep and digestion. It's called the “rest and digest” nerve.
The good news is that it does not take a pill to activate the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve is the 10th cranial nerve and the longest of all 12. In addition to being the longest, it's also the most complex. We know by stimulating the vagus nerve, the brain and body can experience a wide range of benefits. Here are five ways to stimulate vagus nerve activity.
1) Cold therapy: For thousands of years, "cold therapy" has been mentioned as a quick way to feel better and improve health. A quick way to introduce yourself to this practice is taking a 30-second cold shower or splashing ice cold water on your face.
2) Deep breathing: Slow, deep breaths signal the body it's time to relax. Parasympathetic activity can increase, which means the vagus nerve is stimulated. Try stretching each deep breath to about 10 seconds total (or 6 breaths per minute) and notice the relaxing effect this has on the body and mind.
3) Meditation: Finding a meditation practice that works for you can take some time. But it can also have positive effects on several areas of your life. In fact, studies show meditation can strengthen vagal tone to help you enjoy the effects of vagus nerve stimulation.
4) Humming: On its way from the brain all the way to the bladder, the vagus nerve is connected to the vocal cords. Humming is one way to stimulate the vagus nerve, as the vibrations in your vocal cords can trigger the vagal response. Hum your favorite tune or simply repeat "Om" to see how this feels. It's often done in a yoga class.
5) Music: Listening to your favorite music can help promote the vagal response and strengthen vagal tone particularly if it is relaxing. Studies have shown that classical music like Mozart can have profound health benefits via the vagus nerve, though you might find Motown tunes equally relaxing.
I use all these techniques in my daily practice of health. I am also using a vagus nerve stimulator called, Neuvana Life, which I combine with music and breath to activate multiple pathways of the vagus nerve. However you decide to do it, becoming a vagus nerve expert can bring you health and relaxation.