Tuesday, December 27, 2022

The Vagus Nerve

I was sitting in the Standard last night shooting the breeze with Jone, among others. Perhaps because he is Norwegian, the subject of biathlon - the weird (at least to our eyes) Scandinavian winter-sport that combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting - came up. I mentioned, in passing, that I had heard that competitors in it had such extraordinary self mastery that they could lower their heart rates just by concentrating. He told me it was likely true as during the race, the skiers' hearts pump at close to the maximum allowable rate, but between these sprints they have to switch gears and fire a steady shot.

When I wondered out loud, how such an extraordinary thing could be achieved, Renu - his fiance and a doctor - piped up; they accomplish it by enhanced control of the vagus nerve.

"Never heard of it," was my contribution to the discussion.

"Also known as the tenth cranial nerve, it interfaces with the parasympathetic control of the heart, lungs, and digestive tract."

"Ah, heart and lungs eh?"

"It is a channel by which they can be relaxed by, say, deep slow breathing or even the application of a cold press to the upper area of the sternum."

"Like yoga!"

"I was thinking more of the role of endurance training, central command, reflexes from muscle, and of the carotid-cardiac baroreceptor reflex in changing vagal tone during intense exercise and recovery, but yes, like yoga."

I'm so happy I went down the pub rather than the library opposite. It is more educational.

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