An apple a day used to be enough to keep the doctor away. Or so we thought. We now know that a healthy diet and exercise are critical. We know we have to keep our weight down, and can't smoke or abuse alcohol in our quest for good health and longevity. Now we can also add spiritual activities like meditation to the wellness list. Meditation leads to improved emotional regulation, which leads to more positive social interactions, which leads to better health. Here's how it works.
Barbara Frederickson and her colleagues found a connection between a physiological measure of your vagus nerve activity and more positive emotions and social interactions. People with higher vagal tone, which has to do with heart regulation and the release of oxytocin, are happier and have more rewarding social interactions. After all, who wants to hang out with Debbie Downer? We're attracted to people who exude positivity and engage with us in upbeat ways.
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How do you get higher vagal tone? Practicing a loving kindness meditation, prayer or other spiritual activity, is associated with increased vagal tone. People with higher vagal tone are good at regulating their emotions, are more altruistic and tend to get closer to others. We know that these spiritual practices improve self-control and self-awareness, so it's not a far cry to see how they would relate to being a more positive person.
In other words, you can learn to regulate how you feel. The more you do to achieve this improved vagal tone, the better you will be at emotional regulation. This is referred to as up-regulating positive emotions. Up-regulation means that you don't have to wake up feeling positive. You can do things to up-regulate and help yourself feel more positive.
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Up-regulating affects your interactions with others. The more in control you are, the better you are at being connected with others and the more fun you are to be around. The more positive you are, the more social interactions you're likely to have. The end result is a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease, among other health benefits.
Departing a bit from this study, there is evidence that yoga, exercise, mindfulness or anything else that gives you a little peace and an increased sense of inner space, will move you in this positive, healthy direction. Feeling good increases connection with others, the active ingredient in this healthy diet, along with your daily apple, of course.