Human reflexes

Have you ever grabbed your first, very hot coffee mug in the morning and thought to yourself ’Wow, it’s hot! I should put it down.’ No. You just put it down immediately. Sometimes even drop it. And that is because of your reflexes.

Briefly, reflex is an involuntary and rapid action of a body part, muscle or even an organ, which has received a stimulus. At best, it happens without any consciousness and is immediate. You will not have control over them and the result will always be the same.

Inborn and conditioned reflexes

We can classify two kinds of reflex: they can be inborn or conditioned. Although the majority of reflexes are inborn responses, some reflexes are conditioned into a person as the result of life experiences. Inborn reflexes are very essential for living. Among them are reflexes for swallowing, digestion, blinking, the elimination of body waste, blushing and various skin reflexes for pressure and heat. Our inborn reflexes are meant to keep us alive and to keep us away from harm.

When talking about conditioned reflexes, most people will think of Pavlov and his dogs. And they would be right. The Russian scientist, while experimenting with conditioned reflexes, trained dogs to expect food whenever he rang a bell. We can find numerous examples of conditioned reflexes in animals’ lives.

Although, because of this, we are used to thinking of animals showing conditioned reflexes, we seldom realize what a large part they play in human life too. Human conditioned reflexes are mostly the result of events that occurred to us during our childhood. The environment that surrounded us, events that occurred to us, and ideas that our parents shared with us.

How do reflexes work?

The most familiar reflex is the patellar reflex, in which the knee jerks when a doctor taps it with a hammer. The hammer’s hit stretches the tendon in the knee and the muscle in the thigh that connects to it. This sensory information will travel along sensory neurons to the spinal cord, which is the first part of the central nervous system.

Whenever it receives a sensory information from the peripheral nervous system it very quickly sends a message back. In case of the patellar reflex, it will massage the muscle to contract. This contraction of the muscle will cause your lower leg to kick out.

When any part of the spinal cord is damaged, reflexes that would pass through that area will become abnormal. Likewise, if a nerve is injured, reflexes controlled by neurons in that nerve will be altered.  

Improve your reflexes

While some people are born with fast reflexes, others must practice to attain a quicker reaction time to stimuli. There are several techniques that can aid you in improving your reflexes.

  • Take up a fast-paced, competitive ball sport, which requires rapid physical movement. It will not only improve your hand reflexes, but also your eye-hand coordination.

  • Train your peripheral vision. For a few minutes every day, keep your eyes on a distant object and then try to identify objects in your peripheral vision. As your vision gets better, your automatic responses to objects and people approaching from the side out of your direct line of sight will also improve.

  • Play video games. Studies show that playing video games with moderation, not more than 10-30 minutes each day, can help improve reflexes. Video games require players to react quickly and use advanced eye-hand coordination as well.

  • Eat nutrition food. Keeping your whole body and brain in the perfect shape is indispensable if you want good reflexes. To improve your reflexes, make sure to intake enough protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. However, fat food should always be consumed in moderation, to avoid other health problems.

  • Repetition. Much of what we do each day, therefore repeat it uncountable times during our lives, are now programmed into a reflex. Such as work requirements, driving, sports, and now even texting on our phones.