If you love the feeling of a great massage, you’ve got the green light to indulge for your health’s sake. Swedish massage has recently been shown to improve immunity — just minutes after the very first session.
In a study from the Cedars-Sinai Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences in Los Angeles, the lucky participants received 45 minutes of traditional Swedish massage. Blood samples were taken both before and after the massage and demonstrated a clear improvement in several factors that measure immune response and overall health, including: boosting lymphocytes, lowering cytokine levels, and reducing hormones associated with stress.
Lymphocytes, the white blood cells that help defend your body from illness, are divided into three categories: B cells, T cells, and Natural Killer (NK) cells. The B cells produce antibodies that fight bacteria and toxins throughout the body. The T cells are responsible for attacking the cells of the body that have been infected by viruses or malignancies. And NK cells play a major role in the rejection of tumors and cells and cells infected by viruses. They kill invaders by releasing small cytoplasmic granules of proteins that literally reprogram the target cells to self-destruct. Quite simply, gentle massage caused a measurable increase in the number of circulating lymphocytes, thus increasing the body’s immune function. In addition, massage produced positive changes in cytokine levels — lowering those that stimulate an inflammation response.
Massage was also shown to reduce Arginine Vasopressin (AVP), a hormone that controls the retention and release of water through the kidneys. When present in large amounts, AVP can elevate blood pressure and has been linked with aggression.
Another hormone demonstrated to be affected by massage in the study was cortisol. Released by the adrenal gland, cortisol gives you that “adrenaline rush” you experience at stressful moments. Useful as an occasional stimulant to provide the body with extra “resources” in times of danger or great stress, cortisol can be deadly when released into the body continuously by the day to day stresses of modern living. Excess cortisol can lead to adrenal fatigue, high blood pressure, insomnia, poor immune function, and weight gain — particularly an increase in abdominal fat. It is also implicated as a contributing factor in fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and arthritis. Since cortisol levels tend to be highest in the morning, that might be a good time of day to schedule your massage appointment.
This is hardly the first research to appear showing the beneficial aspects of massage on health. Numerous studies through the years have determined that massage can aid in stress relief, lessen anxiety and depression, decrease pain, alleviate stiffness, manage blood pressure, improve sports-related injuries, and possibly even contribute to the effectiveness of cancer treatments, among other things.
According to studies performed at the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami, massage doesn’t even need to occur in the part of the body in which a particular pain is located. Even concentrating the touch elsewhere will release enough powerful chemicals to reduce pain in other areas.
Although Western medicine has only recently begun to acknowledge the advantages massage can bring about, massage dates back to ancient civilizations and has been mentioned in writings by the Romans, Greeks, and many Asian cultures. Chinese medical practitioners, for example, have been employing massage to correct imbalances and restore overall health for hundreds of years.
Let’s face it, even if massage hadn’t been proven to bestow health benefits we would all want one anyway because it just feels so good! Taking an hour out from our busy lives to lay back in a darkened room, listen to soft music, and feel the tension literally being kneaded out of our bodies is stress relief at its finest. There is something to be said for spending a little time doing something nice just for you every now and then. And now that research has proven the health benefits of a single 45-minute session, imagine how great and long lasting the health benefits can be if we all opted to have massages more regularly. Getting a massage should not be considered an extravagance at all. With no downside and plenty of positive factors in its favor, massage should become another tool in our arsenal of health care. Lie back, relax, and enjoy every minute of it!