Take It Easy: Too Much Exercise Frazzles the Vagus Nerve


Improving actual physical fitness needs putting worry on your procedure throughout vigorous routines. But the quest for peak functionality generally backfires—the psychophysiological distress caused by extreme training isn’t very good for you. Discovering a “Goldilocks zone” exactly where your each day exercises place adequate strain on your body to boost fitness devoid of overdoing it can be difficult.

 Chris Bergland

Chris Bergland finishing a Triple Ironman in the early 2000s.

Resource: Chris Bergland

For case in point, when I was seeking to get in shape for severe gatherings like the Triple Ironman (7.2-mile swim, 336-mile bicycle, 78.6-mile operate), the chance of personal injury and burnout was incredibly superior. Monitoring fluctuations in my heart price variability (HRV) was a way to make positive I was not overtraining.

The vagus nerve’s potential to counteract the sympathetic nervous system’s combat-or-flight anxiety response is reflected by increased HRV.

In addition to holding tabs on how my nervous procedure responded to the past day’s strain load by making use of HRV, I also stored tabs on working day-to-working day mood modifications. As a result of demo and error, it became crystal clear that if I was definitely cranky and in a foul mood the morning just after an intensive education session, it intended I was on the verge of receiving burned out from overtraining and needed to just take it uncomplicated for a working day or two.

As a retired extreme-distance athlete, I know from lived practical experience that accomplishing much too significantly training can be dangerous to your psychological and bodily nicely-remaining. Overtraining is each and every endurance athlete’s Achilles heel. It is really so quick for one’s passion for sports and level of competition to turn into work out fanaticism, which frequently qualified prospects to injuries or too much to handle psychological distress.

Overtraining, Low HRV, and Detrimental Moods Go Hand in Hand

New research (Alfonso and Capdevila, 2022) from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) in Spain offers us clean insights into the backlink involving HRV, overtraining, and mood states. Their peer-reviewed results ended up revealed on March 30 in the PeerJ journal.

Carla Alfonso and Lluis Capdevila of UAB’s Laboratory of Activity Psychology uncovered that if a bike exercise was incredibly powerful and set much too substantially stress on a cyclist’s human body, HRV plummeted the subsequent early morning. Alfonso and Capdevila also identified that HRV stages correlated with cyclists’ moods. Reduced HRV was correlated with detrimental mood states greater HRV was linked with greater temper states.

“The aim of the investigation was to examine the relation amongst 3 aspects: education, heart fee variability, and mood,” Alfonso claimed in a information release. “With this study, we aimed to know when an athlete should relaxation, mainly because their process is saturated, and when an athlete can train, with much more or significantly less depth, because their physique is all set to assimilate the instruction load.”

The main takeaway from this pilot research is that HRV and temper states appear to be to increase and fall in tandem. For instance, if a “weekend warrior” overdoes it on Sunday, odds are that they’ll be cranky or in a lousy mood Monday early morning. Negative temper states the working day soon after putting much too a lot strain on your body by overtraining correlate with lessen HRV.


This illustration reveals the human brain and “wandering” vagus nerve. In the 1920s, a German-born researcher named Otto Loewi learned that electrically stimulating the vagus nerve unveiled a parasympathetic material that slows heartbeats and calms the nervous system. Now, we refer to this vagus substance as acetylcholine. Loewi identified as it “vagusstoff.”

Resource: Axel_Kock/Shutterstock

Coronary heart Charge Variability Displays the Vagus Nerve’s Response to Strain

The vagus nerve secretes an inhibitory substance straight onto the coronary heart, slowing it down. Coronary heart level variability steps how effectively vagus nerve activity is generating balanced fluctuations between heartbeats. Higher HRV implies that the overall body has a strong ability to tolerate and get well from pressure. Conversely, lessen HRV means that the vagus nerve is “frazzled” and isn’t really efficiently inhibiting the sympathetic anxious system’s fight-or-flight reaction, which revs up heartbeats and displays a reduce worry tolerance.

Otto Loewi won a Nobel Prize in 1936 for his discovery that stimulating the vagus nerve releases an inhibitory substance that slows heartbeats and calms the nervous system.

In the 1970s, my neurosurgeon father taught me about Loewi’s vagus nerve research in the context of sustaining grace less than strain. My father knew that “vagusstoff” was produced in the course of the exhalation phase of the breathing cycle. So, he employed respiratory exercises to keep tranquil in the course of brain surgical procedure and on the tennis court. (See “How ‘Vagusstoff’ (Vagus Nerve Material) Calms Us Down.”)

When I was a younger tennis player, Dad coached me to choose a speedy inhalation by means of my nose followed by a long, gradual exhalation via pursed lips to calm my nerves before each provide. A latest examine observed that just one 5-minute session of deep, sluggish-respiratory workout (4 seconds in, six seconds out) improves vagal tone and lessens nervousness. Individually, I favor an inhale-exhale ratio of 4-2nd inhalations followed by eight-next exhalations.

On the foundation of proof-dependent investigation and lived working experience, I know that extended exhalations are an simple way to hack your vagus nerve by triggering the launch of vagusstoff. But, I also fully grasp that the calming impact of these respiration workouts tends to be limited-lived.

When the sympathetic nervous procedure is overstimulated by much too considerably training, diaphragmatic breathing is just a bandage that gives you temporary relief. Rest is the best cure for giving your vagus nerve and parasympathetic procedure a opportunity to bounce back.

To Sum Up: Extreme Workout Minimizes Vagus Nerve Tone as Indexed by Minimal HRV

HRV is an indispensable resource for holding tabs on how your vagus nerve responds to exercising-induced anxiety and guaranteeing that you you should not overtrain. Minimal HRV suggests that the fight-or-flight mechanisms of your sympathetic nervous process are in hyperdrive and that vagal tone is weak. Conversely, bigger HRV shows that vagus nerve exercise is sturdy and that your parasympathetic nervous process is dealing with strain well.

The most recent investigation (2022) on HRV and overtraining reaffirms that low HRV is a warning indicator that your vagus nerve may perhaps be “frazzled” from way too significantly psychophysiological distress. If you really don’t have access to an HRV check, encountering detrimental moods the working day following exercising vigorously may well be a indication that you must acquire it quick for the up coming 24 hours and give your procedure time to recuperate.


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Anna C. Knight

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