On social media and in wellbeing circles, people have been talking about the vagus nerve a lot.

In fact, we have two vagus nerves — a left and a right — and their optimal functioning is essential for good physical and mental health.

Many social media posts describe ways to reset the vagus nerves to reduce stress and increase calm. These mostly focus on yoga, meditation, deep breathing and cold plunges.

But the vagus nerves also play a part in why socialising, sex and sports are good for our health and wellbeing.

Our rest-and-digest-and-restore system

The sympathetic nervous system produces our fight-or-flight response to perceived threats. The vagus nerves are part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which does the opposite: rest, digest and restore.

The sympathetic nervous system increases heart and breathing rates, slows down digestion and lowers the immune response. Stimulation of the vagus nerves reduces heart rate, promotes healthy digestion and metabolism, increases blood flow to organs and reduces inflammation.

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