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Differences between sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system

by Alivia Nyhan
Published: Last Updated on

The human body is made up of different interconnected systems, which in turn have subsystems that carry out various aspects of their operation. One of the most fundamental systems is the nervous system, since it extends throughout the body. Knowing it helps to better understand our health and the diseases that may arise.

One of the classifications that can be given is that of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, important for understanding our body biorhythms. Stay in this FastlyHealarticle to know the differences between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems .

Somatic and autonomic nervous system

Before proceeding to the differentiation between the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, it must be clarified that not our entire nervous system or our body is controlled voluntarily. There are endless processes that are done without realizing it every second, and as for the nervous system, depending on whether they are involved in conscious processes or not, they are classified into:

  • Somatic nervous system : related to voluntary and conscious actions . Linked to the muscles responsible for movements such as limbs, face and muscles, breathing and the senses. It mainly involves the peripheral nervous system.
  • Autonomic or neurovegetative nervous system : it mainly involves the central nervous system and with it most of the involuntary nervous processes such as peristaltic movements, the regulation of the endocrine, cardiovascular and body biorhythms, the production of thought, among other functions. Within this autonomic nervous system is where we find the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

Sympathetic nervous system

This system is associated with the activation of alarm and stress responses to non-neutral stimuli, that is to say that in some way they mean the loss of homeostasis and security for the body. In this way, the sympathetic nervous system is psychologically associated with any reaction that involves emotions such as fear, anguish, euphoria, anger and pleasure.

It also intervenes in physical exercise, by promoting blood supply to smooth or motor muscles such as those of the extremities, in addition, as part of the autonomic nervous system, its main innervations are with the glands. Other responses of which the sympathetic nervous system is responsible are:

  • Pupil dilation
  • Acceleration of the cardiorespiratory rhythm
  • Dilation of the bronchi to be able to use more air
  • Excessive sweating
  • Heat production and energy expenditure
  • Adrenal gland stimulation and increased adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol in the blood.
  • Decrease or slow down peristaltic contractions and digestion.

Parasympathetic nervous system

This is the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system. Although it continues to function unconsciously, while the sympathetic system activates conditions of alarm, stress and physical action in general, the parasympathetic proceeds to take center stage during sleep, rest and after eating properly and large bites. We make this clarification since eating a very small amount, just a couple of sweets or full of stress does not allow proper digestion and the systems involved, which include the parasympathetic nervous system.

Among the effects produced by the activation of the parasympathetic axis are:

  • Muscle relaxation
  • Pupil contraction
  • Saving energy and body heat
  • Reduced heart and breathing rate
  • Increased peristaltic activity, gastrointestinal muscle tone, and secretion of digestive enzymes (stimulates digestion)
  • Tissue repair and increased immune activity
  • Increased production of acetylcholine and serotonin
  • Melatonin secretion (during sleep)

Becoming aware of our systems

Although we have already seen that these systems work autonomously (and thank goodness, since it would be impossible for us to consciously coordinate all these functions), it is possible to regulate and in a certain way control the activity of these systems as a way of becoming aware of our health and take care of it. As you may have perceived, each of them is the protagonist in specific phases of our biorhythm.

For this reason, it is important to first respect our natural biorhythms :

  • The cycles and hours of sleep and wakefulness.
  • Eat 3 times a day in a balanced way, without stress.
  • Rest after meals (just rest, naps are not necessary).
  • Hydrate properly.
  • Respiratory rhythm.

Second, there are two bridges between our consciousness and the direct regulation of these systems:

  • Breathing : it is a function that can be influenced by our consciousness as well as by our autonomous system. Becoming constantly aware of it and improving it will facilitate a greater connection and understanding of our body.
  • Vagus nerve stimulation : this is a cranial nerve that extends from the brain to the body, forming part of the autonomic nervous system and of both sympathetic and parasympathetic functions. The correction of daily postures, plus the practice of yoga , Pilates and other exercises to stimulate the vagus nerve allow greater control over these functions.

This article is merely informative, at FastlyHeal .com we do not have the power to prescribe medical treatments or make any type of diagnosis. We invite you to see a doctor in the case of presenting any type of condition or discomfort.

If you want to read more articles similar to Differences between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system , we recommend that you enter our Brain and nerves category .

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