The Little-Known Chemical that Has a Big Impact on Longevity

I think it’s safe to say we’d all like to keep our minds sharp as we age. And Big Pharma knows it. Which is why they’ve spent millions of dollars over the past several years developing a class of “smart drugs” called nootropics that they claim can help improve mental performance.

While it’s possible some of these products might work, there’s still a significant lack of research showing their true effectiveness—and safety.

Meanwhile, one key neurotransmitter—called acetylcholine—could make a big difference in your physical and mental health as you age.

And today I’ll tell you how to boost your levels without taking a single pill.

Acetylcholine 101

Over the years, researchers have come to understand that acetylcholine plays a critical role in each moment of our day.

Every thought that leads to a physical action—running, walking, lifting a mug of tea, etc.—depends on acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is found in all the brain cells that help your muscles contract. Which means it also plays a key role in vital physical actions you don’t think about—like blinking, breathing, and your heart beating.

It also plays a key role each time one of the billions of synapses fire off in your brain. Unfortunately, reduced levels of this neurotransmitter have been linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

But as I mentioned above, the good news is that there’s an easy, pill-free way to boost your acetylcholine levels: Stimulating your vagus nerve.

Make more "Vagusstoff"


Back in the early 1900s, scientists had just discovered the vagus nerve and began to notice that it produced a liquid-like substance. Nobel Prize-winning physiologist Otto Loewi called it “vagusstoff,” but today we know it as acetylcholine.

And as it turns out, stimulating your vagus nerve is your body’s “built-in” way to support the production of this all-important chemical.

Here’s an easy exercise you can do daily to stimulate your vagus nerve and, in turn, boost your acetylcholine levels:

  1. Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted and get comfortable.
  2. Take a moment to note how you feel physically and mentally.
  3. Use YouTube or a music streaming app to play one of your favorite songs with lyrics.
  4. During the singing parts you may either sing along with the words or simply hum along with the melody.
  5. During any instrumental parts without singing, take a few slow, deep breaths.
  6. Repeat these steps for as many songs as you like.
  7. When you’re finished, take note of how you feel.

Read these articles to learn more helpful ideas about using sound based vagus nerve stimulation:

Vagus Nerve Exercises for Stress and Anxiety Relief

Stimulating the Vagus Nerve for Better Sleep, Stress Relief & Health

Music Healing for Stress, Anxiety and Pain

Always remember that it’s not important whether you’re in tune or not—or have a “good” voice. The benefits come from the process of making your own vocal sound.

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Breit, S., Kupferberg, A. Rogler, G., and Hasler, G. (2018). Vagus Nerve as Modulator of the Brain–Gut Axis in Psychiatric and Inflammatory Disorders. Frontiers of Psychiatry. 9:44. Retrieved from:


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About the author:

Jim Donovan M.Ed. is a multi-platinum musician, educator and TEDx speaker.

His mission is to share the restorative power of music through education and performance.

Donovan is an Assistant Professor and Director of Music and Wellness at Saint Francis University.

His viral TEDx Talk "How to Trick Your Brain Into Falling Asleep" has been viewed over 6 million times to date.

He currently performs with his band The Sun King Warriors who can best described as as a blend of rhythm heavy roots rock, with a strong dose of big barreling drums. 

Jim Donovan got his start as a founding member of the multi-platinum selling band Rusted Root. 

There he co-wrote the song “Send Me on My Way” featured in the movies "Ice Age", "Matilda" and the Netflix series "New Girl".

During his time with the band 1990-2005, he recorded and released seven full length albums. Including "When I Woke" (3x platinum).

He also had the honor of sharing the stage with many of his musical influences and heroes including Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin (1995 US/UK tour), Carlos Santana (1997/2002 US tour), The Allman Brothers Band (1995/96 US tour), The Grateful Dead (1995 Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA) and many others.

Send Me On My Way also became the first song on Mars where it “woke up” NASA’s Mars Rover.


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