7 Ways to Support the Vagus Nerve and Improve Heart Rate Variability (HRV)

soothing vagus nerveThe vagus nerve activates the parasympathetic nervous system and is essentially our “stress-reset button.” It has the important job of telling the body that everything is okay.

Increasing vagal tone and heart rate variability is one of the simplest and easiest ways to feel better fast.

What is the vagus nerve?

The vagus nerve is a finger of the brain that reaches down to the body to influence heart rate, respiration, and digestion. It influences the body’s organs but it’s also influenced by them. The vagus nerve is how the brain monitors the body to know if all is well and if it’s okay to relax.

When we stimulate the vagus nerve with breathing exercises or yoga or cold water (or many other things), it increases “parasympathetic tone” or “vagal tone” and a feeling of calm.

What is heart rate variability?

A good indicator of vagal tone is heart rate variability which is a slight decrease in heart rate with exhalation. It’s a good thing.

Greater heart rate variability (higher vagal tone) is associated with better health including better digestion, reduced inflammation, increased emotional resilience, and longevity.

Lower heart rate variability (reduced vagal tone) is associated with negative mood and inflammation.

Vagus nerve stimulation has recently been approved as a novel treatment for depression. It can also relieve migraines and reduce inflammation.

👉 Tip: Did you know that the vagus nerve innervates the cervix? When IUDs cause anxiety, I think it might have something to do with disruption of the vagus nerve.

Link with altruism

Higher vagal tone also boosts oxytocin and feelings of altruism. That’s why some researchers refer to the vagus as the love nerve or the compassion nerve. According to Dr. Dacher Keltner, vagus activation is the source of the warm, expansive feeling in our chests when we experience (or even think about) human kindness.

We used to think that some people are just born with high vagal tone. We now know it can be cultivated.

7 ways to stimulate the vagus nerve and improve heart rate variability

13 thoughts on “7 Ways to Support the Vagus Nerve and Improve Heart Rate Variability (HRV)”

  1. Hi Lara.
    Your articles are really interesting. I would love to see references to back up the information and allow me to research even further into the great stuff I’m learning from you. Thanks

    • Many of the statements are referenced. Click on the links to go through to the PubMed citation.
      Also, see the reference section in my book Period Repair Manual.

  2. I suffered with endometriosis the entire time I had a period, 11.11 years- 42 years when I then had a hysterectomy.
    The world opened up once I accepted the new chapter in my life and I was no longer in constant paid 3 weeks a month in one way or another.
    Now 53 years old, there is a new cross to bear. Weight gain and the near impossible task of losing weight and staying as young as I can. I use Divigel and progesterone. Any advice to resetting the metabolism?
    I started following you as s means to communicate with my teen daughters about their bodies. I am teaching them to follow good nutrition, sleep habits and stay active. Listening to their bodies is also something we are constantly discussing. It seems Mom needs help now.
    Thank you and good luck,
    Richmond, VA

    • Is it actual progesterone that you take (as in, Prometrium)? or a progestin.
      And do you know if you have insulin resistance or not?

  3. Can you expand on Heart Rate Variability? How to know when it’s healthy or not? I use the AVA bracelet to monitor my cycle and the only variable I still cannot get my head around is HRV. Thanks!

    • Heart rate variability is healthy and a good thing. It means the heart rate slows with exhalation, as the vagus nerve kicks in.

  4. Hi Dr Lara,
    Another inspiring article. Thank you for providing information to help us feel better.
    Add Yerba Mate’ to the bitter list.

  5. Great article, doing my research in the body mind connection, including the polyvagal theory. Good to have practical advice 🙂 thank you.

  6. Great summary Lara. Getting the parasympathetic nervous system humming is so important with our stressed patients.

  7. Very interesting article. Might want to fix this: The vagus is so effective for mood that vagal nerve stimulation has ben ( … BEEN ….) approved as a novel treatment for depression. 🙂


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