Why the Minivan of the Nervous System trumps the Sports Car
Brent Tiesma | Tech CA
Last month, we talked about how the body’s built-in survival ‘Fight or Flight’ response is like the gas pedal of your Autonomic nervous system. It ensures you react quickly to a perceived threat in order to live to see another day. Like a high-end sports car it boasts amazing power, performance and speed but expensive to fuel and maintain. Now, we might drive that head turning car on sunny days or special occasions but we’d never dream of ever driving it as our everyday boot-around-town vehicle to take the kids to swimming lessons in or stop and pick up groceries with. Our ‘Flight or Flight’ system is not so different. It’s energy expensive to upkeep and more importantly, taxing and damaging on the body the more we take it out for an everyday spin. Which means, living under constant stress can open you up to chronic disease and dysfunction.
Fortunately the Autonomic nervous system is made up of another component that puts the brakes on the Fight or Flight response and allows the body to regulate, rebuild and restore the damage that life exerts on it. Enter the Mini Van of the Nervous System — The parasympathetic system.
Often called ‘Rest & Digest’, this ‘laid-back’ response is responsible for all the good, mundane things that happen in the body. This system is meant to kick into gear and counter act the effects of the Fight or Flight response. It starts by slowing down the heart, lowering blood pressure, clearing out the waste products from the fight or flight response, constructing hormones, regulating digestion and bowel responses. It moves blood back to the digestive organs, jacks up the immune system, repairs damaged muscle tissue, tops up the stores of our tear ducts, relaxes muscles and is even responsible for sexual arousal. Honk Honk! This is the state we hit when we have an afternoon nap, watch a Meg Ryan movie, jump in a float tank or get a chiropractic adjustment.
The role of the ‘Rest & Digest’ response is all about slowing your body down, creating, processing and promoting long-term health by conserving energy and maintaining a healthy balance within the body. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that if you’re under constant stress, being prescribed ‘blue pills’, high blood pressure or sleep medication, told to take up gardening or to cash in your vacation days for a long trip to the Caribbean then there is very high possibility you are simply not using your mini-van (Rest & Digest) for your daily tasks and driving sport car (Fight or Flight) into the ground.
Since the balance between the ‘Fight or Flight’ and the ‘Rest and Digest’ response is an important metric to your overall health, we track this at every milestone visit by measuring Heart Rate Variability. HRV gives us a direct link to how the autonomic system is functioning by measuring the intervals between each successive heart beat. As you react to stress, the Fight or Flight response dampens the intervals making the variability more like a metronome; while the Rest & Digest response increases the variability and difference between each beat. You want more of that and less of the former.
No surprise, studies have shown that regular chiropractic adjustments can improve the parasympathetic response making your life better and healthier on so many levels. To ensure optimal health, be sure to take your mini-van out for your daily chores and leave your sports car ready for the more important emergencies in life – Like surviving!