In part one of this series on improving vagal tone, I explained that the vagus nerve is the information superhighway of your autonomic nervous system. It connects your brain to organs and glands throughout the body and acts as the main conduit of your parasympathetic (“rest-and-digest”) nervous system. Vagal nerve activity touches just about every system in the body, including respiration, immunity, cardiovascular activity, digestion, and the gut microbiome.
The term “vagal tone” refers to how active your parasympathetic nervous system is. Ideally, we want high vagal tone, because that indicates a generally relaxed state where the body can focus on growth and repair. When vagal tone is low, the sympathetic (“fight-flight-freeze”) nervous system is dominant. That’s no good. The sympathetic nervous system should kick in when we need to respond to an acute threat or stressor, but we don’t want it running in the background all the time.
Unfortunately, a chronically stressed, sympathetic-dominant state is the norm for most people nowadays. Scientists are always on the hunt for ways to alleviate that stress and reduce the medical burden associated with it. Some researchers are investigating pharmaceutical means of improving vagal tone, along with protocols for using electrostimulation. You don’t need these high-tech procedures, though. Once you start digging into the science of the vagus nerve, you realize something cool: Most of the things we promote in the Primal community probably improve vagal tone.
I’m a huge fan of keeping things simple (I even put it in my business name: eat.simple). I especially feel this way when it comes to food, fitness, and fat loss. If you’re sick of white knuckling it through your day, struggling with non-existent motivation, or the phrase “I’ll just start again on Monday” is on regular rotation in your vocabulary, there’s one life-changing tactic I use with all my clients that’s proven to accelerate results. I realize life-changing is a fairly dramatic word, but without this one step, you’ll be working harder than you need to. The simplest and most impactful thing you can do to accelerate your results is to set your environment up for success. The Role Your Environment Plays Think about the unfavourable snack foods that you keep in your pantry. You know, “just in case.” Or the fact that you have no clue where you put those free weights you bought during the pandemic. Does that get you closer to your results or further away? When you remove the foods that tempt you from the house and replace them with ones that support your goal, you have the best possible chance of succeeding. Same goes for exercise. If your workout gear is tucked away in a back closet, how likely are you to use it? Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behaviour. This nugget of truth from author and habit expert, James Clear is 100% spot on. People tend to believe that their healthy habits are a product of motivation, willpower, and effort, when in reality, it’s your environment that gives you the biggest bang for your buck. Clear says, “If you want to maximize your odds of success, then you need to operate in an environment that accelerates your results rather than hinders them.” Examples of how environment impacts you: Your phone is right next to your desk, so you check Instagram more often than you’d like You didn’t make time to go grocery shopping, so it looks like it’s take-out again tonight The room you work out in is cluttered with junk, making it hard to find space to do yoga You use a large dinner sized plate, and fill it up with more food than you need You keep ice cream in the freezer and eat it after a really stressful day Change Your Environment, Change Who You Are Environment plays a big role in your ability to reach your goals. Not just from a conscious perspective (remove the ice cream from the freezer so it’s harder to indulge), but also from a subconscious perspective. By altering your environment, your subconscious mind starts to adopt behaviours and attitudes that are conducive to your success. Say, you went ahead and purged all the cookies, bagels, muffins, and cereal from your pantry and replaced them with bowls of fresh fruit and veggies. The food you’re surrounded by begins to change the way you think about yourself. In other words, if your cupboard … Continue reading “Want to Accelerate Your Results? Set Up Your Environment for Success”
The beauty of microworkouts is that you can do them virtually anywhere with minimal time investment, and the cumulative training effect really adds up… if you remember to do them.
To be successful with microworkouts, or any form of exercise, consistency is key. Not rigidity—we’re not big fans of rigidly adhering to a strict exercise schedule here—but you need to put in the time and effort. Workouts that don’t happen don’t change you. Unlike going to the gym or taking a Crossfit class, which you might schedule into your busy calendar, microworkouts are meant to be sprinkled throughout your day. Unfortunately, that makes microworkouts all too easy to forget or push off, until you get to dinnertime and realize you’ve barely moved your body all day.
If this sounds familiar, it’s time to get some systems in place to make microworkouts a built-in part of your day. This is a roundabout way of saying: you need to make microworkouts a habit.
Over the past few months, you’ve probably picked up a few habits you might not be thrilled with right now. Maybe your new normal has you staring mindlessly at the fridge looking for something snacky (and packing on a few extra pounds). Putting your workouts off ‘til the gym reopens. Or managing your stress with another drink, another bag of chips, or another hour of scrolling through your social media feed.
A lot of my clients have noticed that the bad habits they used to have are resurfacing too. Which is totally normal given the circumstances.
So, what gives?
You can’t change your genes. But you can program them.
The modern world presents a number of problems for our genes. The world we’ve constructed over the last 50 years is not the environment in which our genetic code evolved. Our genes don’t “expect” historically low magnesium levels in soil, spending all day indoors and all night staring into bright blue lights, earning your keep by sitting on your ass, getting your food delivered to your door, communicating with people primarily through strange scratchings that travel through the air. So when these novel environmental stimuli interact with our genetic code, we get disease and dysfunction.
The genes look bad viewed through a modern prism. They get “associated” with certain devastating health conditions. But really, if you were to restore the dietary, behavioral, and ambient environments under which those genes evolved, those genes wouldn’t look so bad anymore. They might even look great.
This is epigenetics: altering the programming language of your genes without altering the genes themselves.
Hi folks, welcome back for another edition of Ask a Health Coach. Today, Erin discusses how trusting your instincts might just be your best bet during these uncertain times, how finding your ‘why’ can help you stick with long-term goals, and the one thing you need to do to change bad habits for good. Got more questions? Keep them coming in the MDA Facebook Group or down below in the comments.
“I’ve definitely felt the pressure of having more time on my hands lately. Everywhere I turn I’m hearing people say, ‘what will you do during the quarantine?’ And ‘how will you come out of this better?’ What’s your take on all of this?” – Andrea
From my perspective, there are just as many people shouting “MAKE YOURSELF BETTER!” as there are “TAKE IT EASY ON YOURSELF.” Honestly, I’m team DO WHATEVER THE HECK FEELS RIGHT FOR YOU.
We all have a new normal right now, even those of us who are used to doing the work-from-home thing. Your new routine might have you feeling unproductive, fearful, or totally out of it. Or it might have you living your best life enjoying extra hours of glorious sleep, a reinvigorated sense of creativity, or desire to learn.
“I’ll start eating healthy again on Monday.”
“I’m not really a gym person.”
“I’ll probably gain the weight back anyway.”
I hear statements like these all the time. If any of them sound remotely like something you’ve said recently, there’s a good chance you’re secretly sabotaging yourself. You might not even know that you’re doing it—but what you do know is that nothing in your life is changing. That probably sounds a little harsh but hear me out.
We all know the grim stats about how many New Year’s resolutions fail. It’s not because making resolutions is hokey or people are inherently lazy. It’s because most resolutions come down to one of two things: adopting new (good) habits or breaking old (bad) habits, and habit change is hard.
People struggle at every step, from picking the right goals—ones that are motivating and achievable—through the implementation process.
The trick is to be strategic and intentional about changing your habits. Rather than relying on willpower and wishes, get good systems in place. As James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, says, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”