Understanding The Autonomic Nervous System and How To Keep it Energetic and Healthy

Domonique D. Hargrove B.A., M.S., NCEP Certified Trainer, Founder& President of “Slight Edge Performance Program” LLC

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What Is The Autonomic Nervous System?

The autonomic nervous system is the part of the nervous system that supplies the internal organs, including the blood vessels, stomach, intestine, liver, kidneys, bladder, genitals, lungs, pupils, heart, and sweat, salivary, and digestive glands.

The autonomic nervous system has two main divisions: Sympathetic and Parasympathetic.

After the autonomic nervous system receives information about the body and external environment, it responds by stimulating body processes, usually through the sympathetic division, or inhibiting them, usually through the parasympathetic division.

An autonomic nerve pathway involves two nerve cells. One cell is located in the brain stem or spinal cord. It is connected by nerve fibers to the other cell, which is located in a cluster of nerve cells (called an autonomic ganglion). Nerve fibers from these ganglia connect with internal organs. Most of the ganglia for the sympathetic division are located just outside the spinal cord on both sides of it. The ganglia for the parasympathetic division are located near or in the organs they connect with.

2 Divisions of Autonomic System: Sympathetic and Parasympathetic

1. The sympathetic nervous system

The sympathetic nervous system makes up part of the autonomic nervous system, also known as the involuntary nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system directs the body’s rapid involuntary response to dangerous or stressful situations.

The autonomic nervous system functions to regulate the body’s unconscious actions. The sympathetic nervous system’s primary process is to stimulate the body’s fight-flight-or-freeze response. It is, however, constantly active at a basic level to maintain homeostasis homeodynamics.

The sympathetic nervous system operates through a series of interconnected neurons. Sympathetic neurons are frequently considered part of the peripheral nervous system (PNS), although there are many that lie within the central nervous system (CNS).

2. The parasympathetic nervous system

The parasympathetic nervous system inhibits the body from overworking and restores the body to a calm and composed state. The parasympathetic nervous system relates to the part of the automatic nervous system that counterbalances the action of the sympathetic nerves. It consists of nerves arising from the brain and the lower end of the spinal cord and supplying the internal organs, blood vessels, and glands.

Body functions stimulated by the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) include sexual arousal, salivation, lacrimation, urination, digestion, and defecation. The PSNS primarily uses acetylcholine as its neurotransmitter.

Sometimes called the rest and digest system, the parasympathetic system conserves energy as it slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and gland activity, and relaxes sphincter muscles in the gastrointestinal tract.

The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is a very complex system of nerves in the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves that reach out to the limbs and organs. The ANS can be divided into three main areas. The central (brain) portions of the ANS are found in the medulla oblogata in the lower brain stem, and also in the hypothalmus. The other two portions of the ANS are found in the peripheral nerves, including the Sympathetic Nervous System branch, and the Parasympathetic Nervous System branch.

The medulla oblongata is a part of the brain that regulates cardiac, respiratory, vasomotor control, as well as reflexes like coughing, sneezing, vommitting and swallowing. The hypothalmus, another part of the brain, performs a supporting role by linking the nervous system to the endocrine system. The hypothalmus regulates body temperature, thirst, hunger, sleep and circadian rythyms in the body. Through endocrine control, the hypothamlus also plays a role in regulating blood volume and blood pressure.

The Sympathetic Nervous System is commonly associated with the “fight or flight” responses – those bodily reactions that you need to respond quickly in an emergency. When faced with a life threatening situation, your human instinct takes over and you either fight the danger you are facing, or you take flight and run away from the danger. Your Sympathetic Nervous System allows your body to do this rapidly. For example, in the face of danger, your Sympathetic Nervous system will cause bronchial dilation – this allows you to breathe better while you are fighting or running away from the dangerous situation. Likewise, your heart will beat stronger and faster, also prepping the body to fight or take flight.

The Parasympathetic Nervous System is commonly associated with the “rest and digest” responses – those bodily actions needed to restore energy and rest the body. For example, chewing food triggers the Parasympathetic Nervous System to increase production of saliva and to increase digestion in the gut. The Parasympathetic Nervous System also increases gallbladder function, which assists in the digestive process.

Why is it important to have a healthy nervous system?

The nervous system plays a role in nearly every aspect of our health and well-being. It guides everyday activities such as waking up; automatic activities such as breathing; and complex processes such as thinking, reading, remembering, and feeling emotions. The nervous system controls: Brain growth and development.

The nervous consists of the brain, the spinal cord, and neurons. It is arguably the most important system of the body. Two of the primary components of the central nervous system are the brain and the spinal cord.

The nervous system takes in information through our senses, processes the information and triggers reactions, such as making your muscles move or causing you to feel pain.

The nervous system is a complex collection of nerves and specialized cells known as neurons that transmit signals between different parts of the body. The somatic system consists of nerves that connect the brain and spinal cord with muscles and sensory receptors in the skin.

How do we keep our nervous system healthy?

Eat a balanced diet. A balanced, low-fat diet with ample sources of vitamins B6, B12, and folate will help protect the nervous system. Make sure that your diet contains lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Drink plenty of water and other fluids.

Get blood sugar and high blood pressure under control. Drink plenty of water and other fluids, as dehydration is not good for the nervous system.

Here are the top 10 ways to strengthen your nervous system

1. Deep Breathing
Deep breathing is a simple yet effective technique to deal with a weak nervous system. It can help you relax and reduce stress.

2. Walking Barefoot
Walking barefoot on moist earth, soft grass or a sandy beach for about 30 minutes daily can greatly benefit your nervous system and overall health. When you walk barefoot, the Earth’s surface electrons transfer into your body, promoting physiological changes and improved health.

3. Sunlight
Sunlight helps regulate the nervous system by helping the body produce vitamin D.

Expose your body to early morning sunlight without using any sunscreen for 10 to 15 minutes daily to boost your vitamin D levels. You can also get vitamin D from salmon, tuna, milk, eggs and fortified breakfast cereals.

4. Yoga and Mediation
You can make yoga and meditation, a part of your daily routine to strengthen your nervous system. The combination of three elements of yoga, such as poses meditation and proper breathing practice helps strengthen the peripheral nervous system. Furthermore, yoga is good for elevating mood, reducing cortisol level, boosting the immune system and increasing overall physical and mental well-being. As it is essential to do yoga poses in a proper manner, learn the poses from an expert and then practice them daily.

5. Magnesium
Magnesium is an important mineral for a healthy nervous system. The deficiency of this mineral has an inhibitory effect on several neurotransmitters that support signal transmission between nerve cells. Furthermore, it aids the body’s production of serotonin, which relaxes the nervous system and elevates mood. It even promotes muscle relaxation.

6. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
To reduce the risk of a weak nervous system, start eating foods rich in omega-3. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for the development and functioning of the central nervous system. These fatty acids are necessary for proper neuron functioning and improved nerve transmissions.

7. Exercise
Regular exercise is also important for strengthening the nervous system. Walking, running, jogging, swimming, and bicycling are some exercises that can be helpful in keeping the nervous system healthy. You can always talk to your doctor about exercises that will be right for you.

8. Epsom Salt
An Epsom salt bath is also good for your nervous system. It helps muscles and nerves function properly. The magnesium in it also helps increase the mood-elevating serotonin in the brain, which reduces stress and promotes relaxation.

9. Green Tea
Green tea also has a positive impact on your nervous system. L-theanine, the amino acid in green tea, helps increase levels of dopamine and serotonin. This in turn improves mood and reduces stress. Furthermore, the caffeine in green tea helps increase alertness, focus, concentration and thinking ability. Also, the antioxidants in it benefit the cardiovascular autonomic nervous system and reduce the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

10. Chamomile
Chamomile is a popular herb that can be used as a mild sedative to calm nerves and reduce anxiety. It can even treat hysteria, nightmares, insomnia and other sleep problems.

Additional Tips

  • Do not smoke or use other tobacco products.
  • Get plenty of rest and sleep after a long, hectic day.
  • Get blood sugar and high blood pressure under control.
  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids, as dehydration is not good for the nervous system.
  • Limit your intake of caffeinated as well as alcoholic drinks.
  • End a bath with a few seconds of a cold shower to stimulate your nervous system. However, avoid the head region.
  • Do not use non-prescribed medicines.

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Be sure to “like” and “follow” our Team Page facebook.com/SlightEdgePerformanceProgram

References: https://painendshere.com/how-to-strengthen-your-nervous-system/, http://www.dysautonomiainternational.org, https://www.merckmanuals.com, https://www.elitecme.com/resource-center/nursing/improving-endocrine-health-through-a-healthy-diet/,

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