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OT - Tone-Up Tuesday

Aniki's picture

Happy Tuesday, STalkers! Are you getting physical? While you’re working out your body, don’t forget to work out your mind!

We don’t just lose muscle over time — our brains can atrophy, too. Shok
Our brains are composed of different areas and functions, and we can strengthen them through mental exercise – or they atrophied for lack of practice. The benefits are both short-term (improved concentration and memory, sustained mental clarity under stressful situations…), and long-term (creation of a “brain reserve” that help protect us against potential problems such as Alzheimer’s).

In addition to good nutrition, regular exercise can promote vascular health to help protect brain tissue. Avoiding ruts and boredom is also critical. The brain wants to learn new things! When the brain is passive, it has a tendency to atrophy. Sedentary and relatively passive activities, such as sitting in front of a TV for hours a day, can be detrimental to brain health over time. Exercises to strengthen the brain function should offer novelty and challenge. Drive home via a different route; brush your teeth with your opposite hand!

TEST YOUR RECALL. Make a list — of grocery items, things to do, or anything else that comes to mind — and memorize it. An hour or so later, see how many items you can recall. Make items on the list as challenging as possible for the greatest mental stimulation.

LET THE MUSIC PLAY. Learn to play a musical instrument or join a choir. Studies show that learning something new and complex over a longer period of time is ideal for the aging mind.

DO MATH IN YOUR HEAD. Figure out problems without the aid of pencil, paper, or computer; you can make this more difficult — and athletic — by walking at the same time.

TAKE A COOKING CLASS. Learn how to cook a new cuisine. Cooking uses a number of senses: smell, touch, sight, and taste, which all involve different parts of the brain.

LEARN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE. The listening and hearing involved stimulates the brain. What’s more, a rich vocabulary has been linked to a reduced risk for cognitive decline. I don't think Pig Latin counts...

CREATE WORD PICTURES. Visualize the spelling of a word in your head, then try and think of any other words that begin (or end) with the same two letters.

DRAW A MAP FROM MEMORY. After returning home from visiting a new place, try to draw a map of the area; repeat this exercise each time you visit a new location.

CHALLENGE YOUR TASTE BUDS. When eating, try to identify individual ingredients in your meal, including subtle herbs and spices.

REFINE YOUR HANE-EYE ABILITIES. Take up a new hobby that involves fine-motor skills, such as knitting, drawing, painting, assembling a puzzle, etc.

LEARN A NEW SPORT. Start doing an athletic exercise that utilizes both mind and body, such as tennis, golf, or yoga.


5 Physical Exercises That Are Good For Your Brain

  1. Aerobic Exercises. For the most part, the exercises that are good for your heart are good for your brain as well.
  2. Yoga and Meditation. Yoga is a great way to stretch and improve flexibility.
  3. Walking. While it's one of the simplest exercises you can do, walking greatly improves brain power.
  4. Jogging or Running.
  5. Group Classes.


Don't forget to eat your way to better brain power! Brain foods:

  • Blueberries
  • Avocados
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fish with omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, mackerel, herring, and tuna)
  • Whole grains
  • Beans
  • Pomegranate juice
  • Freshly brewed tea
  • Dark chocolate (woo hoo!!!)


StepUltimate's picture

...lifting my cup of coffee to you, Aniki! Too early to think yet, but I like your tone and am seriously considering getting up and going to the gym!

(Continues sipping yummy hot coffee!)

Aniki's picture

Hey, SU, coffee has caffeine and caffeine may boost long-term memory!! And while coffee is probably good for your brain, it's definitely good for your heart, bones, muscles, and overall health. So drink up, sister!

queensway's picture

Good morning Aniki. I have been going thru some ups and downs lately and I find this blog most inspiring. You touched on so many things we all should do on a daily basis. I have been in therapy and found out about the vagus nerve. Never really heard of it before. But the body and the mind are so very strong. I was calming myself every night by activating my vagus nerve and didn't know it. I just knew it was the only way I could fall asleep. I was taking cold showers, laying on only my right side and deep breathing. The vagus nerve controls stress in your life and so many other things. It was almost like the mind and the body took over for me during this stressful time in my life. But your blog brings up so many wonderful things we can do to help ourselves be healthy. I will read this every morning to start my day. Thanks Aniki for your great blogs.

Aniki's picture

Queen!! So good to hear from you. Give rose

Sorry you've been on a rollercoaster. I've been struggling with depression myself. The Black Dog jumped on me full force over the weekend and I'm battling it back the best I can. Not easy.

I will post some info about the vagus nerve in another comment. Smile

Myss.Tique D'Off's picture

It is going to get harder for me to motivate myself to run because it is getting colder. No fun being out in the rain for a run in the early morning. This is always a huge struggle for me when it gets colder.. I love yoga and meditation! I do a yoga class twice a week because it helps me get out and see friends.

I love eating nuts and avo. I dream of avo toast... Haha! I am always up for a good cup of coffee. I love  the stuff! Recently I have developed a love a roasted red pepper mousse!

Aniki's picture

Myss, I guess you could go for a run on a treadmill... Music 2

I haven't developed a taste for avo toast, but I do love my Tomato Avocado Salad and cannot get enough of it!


Tomato Avocado Salad

  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes (I used both red and sunburst)
  • 2 ripe avocados, cubed
  • 1/4 small red onion, sliced (or less, if strong)
  • 6-8oz feta cheese crumbles
  • 1/4 cup minced cilantro or parsley
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  1. In a large salad, place the tomatoes, avocado, onion, feta, and cilantro/parsley.
  2. Drizzle with olive oil, lime juice, pepper flakes, and salt & pepper to taste. Gently toss.
  3. Serve immediately or cover with plastic wrap in the refrigerator for up to 2 hours.

Aniki's picture


The Vagus Nerve runs from the base of the brain through the neck and then branches out in the chest, stretching all the way down to the abdomen. The name "vagus" comes from the Latin term for "wandering" – and that’s exactly what the vagus nerve does; it wanders down the body, touching the heart and almost all major organs on its way.

The vagus nerve is the longest and most complex of the 12 pairs of cranial nerves that emanate from the brain. It transmits information to or from the surface of the brain to tissues and organs elsewhere in the body. The nerve is responsible for certain sensory activities and motor information for movement within the body. It works to regulate breathing, heart rate, muscles, digestion, circulation, and even your vocal cords. WOW!

The vagus nerve has a number of different functions. The four key functions of the vagus nerve are:

  • Sensory: From the throat, heart, lungs, and abdomen.
  • Special sensory: Provides taste sensation behind the tongue.
  • Motor: Provides movement functions for the muscles in the neck responsible for swallowing and speech.
  • Parasympathetic: Responsible for the digestive tract, respiration, and heart rate functioning.

Its functions can be broken down even further into seven categories. One of these is balancing the nervous system.
The nervous system can be divided into two areas: sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic side increases alertness, energy, blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate.
The parasympathetic side, which the vagus nerve is heavily involved in, decreases alertness, blood pressure, and heart rate, and helps with calmness, relaxation, and digestion. As a result, the vagus nerve also helps with defecation, urination, and sexual arousal.

Other vagus nerve effects include:

  • Communication between the brain and the gut: The vagus nerve delivers information from the gut to the brain.
  • Relaxation with deep breathing: The vagus nerve communicates with the diaphragm. With deep breaths, a person feels more relaxed.
  • Decreasing inflammation: The vagus nerve sends an anti-inflammatory signal to other parts of the body.
  • Lowering the heart rate and blood pressure: If the vagus nerve is overactive, it can lead to the heart being unable to pump enough blood around the body. In some cases, excessive vagus nerve activity can cause loss of consciousness and organ damage.
  • Fear management: The vagus nerve sends information from the gut to the brain, which is linked to dealing with stress, anxiety, and fear – hence the saying, “gut feeling”. These signals help a person to recover from stressful and scary situations.


Vagus nerve stimulation has the potential to help those suffering from various health conditions, including but certainly not limited to anxiety disorders, heart disease, some forms of cancer, poor circulation, leaky gut syndrome, Alzheimer’s, memory and mood disorders, migraines and headaches, fibromyalgia, obesity, tinnitus, addiction, autism and autoimmune conditions.
So how can we stimulate this nerve to ensure that this nerve is functioning optimally? Here are 19 ways you can exercise and stimulate your vagus nerve:

Cold Showers
Any acute cold exposure will increase vagus nerve stimulation. Studies have shown that when your body adjusts to cold, your fight or flight (sympathetic) system declines and your rest and digest (parasympathetic) system increases, which is mediated by the vagus nerve. Other options are to dip your face in cold water, drink colder fluids and you can even graduate to using a cryohelmet and cold vest. Cold showers are accessible and very effective.

Singing or chanting
Singing, humming, mantra chanting, hymn singing and upbeat energetic singing all increase heart rate variability (HRV) in slightly different ways. Singing at the top of your lungs (like you mean it) makes you work the muscles at the back of your throat, which helps activate the vagus nerve. The next time someone catches you singing along to the radio while driving your car, tell them you are just exercising and activating your Vagus nerve.

Gargling with a glass of water each morning will help to contract the muscles in the back of your throat. This in turn helps to activate the Vagus nerve and also stimulates the digestive tract. Keep a glass next to your sink in the washroom as a daily reminder to perform this exercise. You will know you are doing it properly if you gargle to the point of tearing in the eyes (another vagus nerve response). This exercise has been found to be the most readily accessible and easiest to implement in daily life.

Yoga is a parasympathetic activation exercise that improves digestion, blood flow, lung capacity and function. A 12 week yoga intervention showed significantly improved mood and anxiety levels when compared with a control group that performed simple walking exercises. This study showed that levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter associated with mood and anxiety, were increased in those that performed these exercises. Lower mood and higher anxiety is associated with low GABA levels, while an increase in these levels improves mood and decreases anxiety and stress levels.

There are two different types of meditation that have been shown to increase vagal tone including Loving-Kindness meditation as well as Guided Mindfulness Meditation. These have been measured by heart rate variability. It has also been shown that the chanting of “Om” stimulates the vagus nerve.

Deep Breathing Exercises
Slow and deep breathing also stimulates the vagus nerve. The baroreceptors, or pressure receptors in your neck and heart detect blood pressure and transmit the signal to your brain. This signal then in turn activates the vagus nerve, to help lower blood pressure and heart rate. This results in a lower sympathetic “fight or flight” response, as well as a higher parasympathetic “rest and digest” response. Slow breathing helps to increase the sensitivity of these receptors, increasing vagal activation.

Here’s an important tip: Breathe slowly, having your belly rise and fall. This is the intended action of your Diaphragm muscle. Your shoulders and Traps should not be moving much at all with each breath as these actions are controlled by secondary respiratory muscles. The more your belly expands and contracts, the deeper you are breathing.

Laughter is the best medicine. This can actually be true in the case of increased vagus nerve activity as laughter has been shown to increase heart rate variability in a study comparing laughter in yoga participants.

Laughter has also been found to be beneficial for cognitive function and protects against heart disease. It increases beta endorphins, nitric oxide levels and benefits the vascular system. It has also been shown that people put in humorous situations show a lower cortisol stress level overall.

Your gut is connected to your brain, and one of the clearest connections is through the Vagus nerve. Within our gut, we have a population of normal and good bacteria and yeast called the Microbiome. These organisms have a direct effect on our brains as a significant percentage of our neurotransmitters including Serotonin, GABA and Dopamine are produced through actions of these bacteria helping to break down our foods. Often times we have less good bacteria and more bad bacteria within this population leading to poor neurochemistry and decreased vagal tone.

Probiotics are a good option to help promote the good bacteria and other organisms while helping to crowd out the bad bacteria, parasites and yeast.

Mild exercise has been shown to stimulate gut flow and gastric motility (peristalsis) which is mediated by the vagus nerve. This in turn means that mild low level exercise can stimulate the vagus nerve.

Intermittent fasting helps to increase high frequency heart rate variability in animals, which is a marker of vagal tone. When you fast, part of the decrease in metabolism is mediated by the vagus nerve as it detects a decline in blood glucose levels and a decrease of mechanical and chemical stimuli from the gut.

Pressure massages can activate the vagus nerve. These massages are used to help infants to gain weight by stimulating gut function, which is largely mediated by activating the vagus nerve. Foot Massages can also increase vagus nerve activity, heart rate variability and lower your heart rate and blood pressure, all of which decrease risk of heart disease.

Tai Chi
Tai Chi has been shown to increase heart rate variability in patients suffering from coronary artery disease which again is mediated through vagus nerve activation.

Fish Oil – Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Fish Oils – EPA and DHA are capable of increasing heart rate variability as well as lowering heart rate.

Tongue depressors
Tongue depressors stimulate the gag reflex. These function in a similar mechanism to gargling or singing loudly as they exercise the reflexes that are mediated by the vagus nerve.

Traditional acupuncture treatment as well as auricular acupuncture (of the ear) stimulate vagus nerve activity. The effects of acupuncture are becoming increasingly well known and you can ask most patients who have had this treatment about the calming effect and restful feelings that they have following an acupuncture treatment. I know many of my patients absolutely love it.

Serotonin, the mood and happiness neurotransmitter, is capable of activating the vagus nerve through various receptors, which are mediated by 5HT1A, 5-HT2, 5-HT3, 5-HT-4 and possibly 5-HT6 receptors. If you have been found to be deficient in serotonin levels, 5-HTP is a good supplement to help increase them.

Tensing stomach muscles
Bearing down as if to make a bowel movement requires your body to be in a rest and digest state. This is why many people feel much more relaxed following a bowel movement. Tensing the core muscles by performing abdominal bracing exercises can help to promote a rest and digest state by activating the vagus nerve.

Eating in a relaxed state
Don’t eat breakfast in a rush, lunches at your desk, or dinner in front of the computer. Having a meal in a stressful environment when you are running late, working or not focusing on the meal can have long-lasting and damaging effects. It is important to eat in a relaxed state, in a calm and peaceful environment. Remember – Choose good food, Chew your food well, and Chill. Choose, Chew, Chill.

Chewing food well
The simple act of chewing your food activates the stomach to release acid, taste buds to taste the foods well, bile production in the liver and release from the gallbladder, digestive enzyme release from the pancreas and gut motility which are all mediated by the vagus nerve. It is important to sequence your digestion correctly and your body will do this automatically IF you start the process correctly. You must take the time to chew your food to the point that it is soft and mushy in your mouth, before your swallow. Doing this will set the correct sequence of digestion in motion and allow the vagus nerve to perform its functions correctly.

Your state of digestion, rest and recovery are all mediated by the vagus nerve. Following these exercises and habits will not only make you feel better, it will allow you to experience the world in a relaxed, calm and enjoyable state. Happy gargling!!

Cover1W's picture

I lost 5 lbs in the last month.  I'm not overweight, but since DH has completely modified his diet (for the better) I modified mine as well.  Been going on longer bike rides too...however that's ending with the onslaught of the rainy and dark fall/winter.  I usually start adding in more walking on weekends to compensate.  If I don't move I go nuts.

And multiple home improvement projects keeps me going too!  Getting close to being done with SD14's former room upgrade (new paint, new floor, new wall trim, new rug) then we're re-doing the office, then SD12's room. 

Yesterday my treat was chocolate and black liquorice for dessert.  Dear lord it's wonderful.  It's hard to find my favorite (Lakrits from Sweden) unless I order like 5 lbs at a time, so I just buy good Finnish liquorice (not the salted kind) and good chocolate and mix 'em up. 

GhostWhoCooksDinner's picture

BLACK LICORICE!! Lord, it's like crack to me! People think I'm disgusting, but I love it! ROFL

Where can I buy some good Finnish licorice without actually going to Finland?

Aniki's picture

I just buy good Finnish liquorice

Woman, this Finn loves her licorice! I buy Panda. Biggrin

Congrats on the weight loss! I found it...

Aniki's picture

Woman, that's in Sweden! Do they ship to the U.S.?? As a Finn, I'll stick with my Finnish licorice. Dirol

GhostWhoCooksDinner's picture

Don't forget martial arts! It's great exercise for us...ahem...folks of a certain age, and it's very cerebral as well, learning the different forms.

Aniki's picture

I studied Tae Kwon Do for a couple of years. Unfortunately, the place closed. Tai Chi interests me. Will have to find a DVD...

Monchichi's picture

I could pick up annd carry BabyD for a whole 3 minuutes today for the first time in 6.5 weeks Smile I also walked 1.5kms total yesterday without getting winded. Sorry Ani, my wins are of a much smaller nature. I'm just so happy to be alive, breathing and recovering xx

Aniki's picture

My dear Monchichi, you have been sick. I am ELATED that you could pick up and carry BabyD for 3 minutes! *kiss2*  Give rose