How Does Neuroplasticity Affect The Heart?
Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change and adapt in response to experience. This means that the brain is constantly reshaping itself in response to our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours.
One way that neuroplasticity affects the heart is by influencing the autonomic nervous system the part of the nervous system that controls involuntary body functions like heart rate and blood pressure.
For example, if we are feeling stressed or anxious, our sympathetic nervous system the fight or flight” part of the autonomic nervous system will kick into gear and make our heart rate go up.
Conversely, when we are feeling relaxed and calm, our parasympathetic nervous system the rest and digest” part of the autonomic nervous system will take over and slow our heart rate down.
So, how does neuroplasticity come into play here? Well, over time, chronic stress and anxiety can lead to changes in the brain that make it easier for the sympathetic nervous system to take over” in other words, it becomes harder to recover from a stressor and return to a state of relaxation.
This can have a profound impact on our cardiovascular health, as it puts us at risk for conditions like high blood pressure, arrhythmias, and heart attack.
Fortunately, though, neuroplasticity also works in the other direction: by consciously practicing relaxation techniques like mindfulness meditation, we can retrain our brains to respond more quickly and effectively to stressful situations. In other words, we can reverse the effects of chronic stress on our cardiovascular health.