The vagus nerve affects almost every bodily system, and helps regulate inflammation, stress, heart health, brain health and gut health (to name a few!!), as its the signalling pathway for the parasympathetic nervous system
Vagal tone can indirectly be measured by resting heart rate (lower range of normal is better) and heart rate variability (how much heart rate varies with breathing - higher is better) Higher vagal tone means our body has a more controlled response to stress, and also recovers faster
Interestingly vagal tone is even passed from mother to baby - if mothers are stressed/ depressed/ anxious during pregnancy their babies are born with lower vagal tone and lower levels of serotonin and dopamine - reinforcing why caring for our pregnant women is so vital
Ways to improve vagal tone include the following
Meditation - many studies show meditation improves vagal tone and reduces sympathetic nervous system activity. It's one of my absolute favourites
Exercise - this is highly effective for improving vagal tone, and is why as fitness improves resting heart rate and blood pressure drops. Yoga is especially helpful
Slow deep controlled breathing - aim for around 6 breaths per minute. Holding the breath and slowing the exhale stimulates the vagus nerve. It's one of the quickest ways to switch off the fight or flight response
Physical touch- c tactile afferent nerves in the skin are stimulated by touch and lower cortisol and stress levels. Slow steady strokes at 3-5cm/s seem to be the most effective. Certain pressure points on the foot also stimulate vagus nerve
Kindness, compassion, laughter, and social connection - these stimulate release of oxytocin (love hormone) and improve vagal tone, even thinking about positive social experiences stimulates the vagal nerve!
Cold exposure - cold showers, ice baths, and cold swimming all improve vagal tone. Even cold water on the face helps
Chanting, humming, and 'om' - the vocal cords are connected to the vagus nerve, and these activities all stimulate vagal tone.
Probiotics and omega 3 - these MAY help vagal tone but data is limited
Why not try a few of these and see how you feel? Often doing it regularly for a week or so can be a good trial - if one method doesnt help you can move onto the next - everyone is different!