Who doesn’t love to be touched by a skilled and gentle professional? A therapeutic massage can relax tense muscles and make our cares go away for a little while. But while it might seem like just a luxury, massage actually offers a powerful boost to health and well-being.
Even traditional medical practitioners are beginning to recognize and share massage’s amazing benefits. Here are a few reasons you might want to think of massages as a staple part of your healthy lifestyle.
1. Stress Relief
Stress is the number one contributor to disease. Experts estimate that 80 to 90 percent of disease is either caused or worsened by stress. Receiving a massage releases hormones that mitigate the negative effects of stress.
Massage also helps balance the autonomic nervous system, getting us out of constant “fight-or-flight” mode and giving us a more peaceful baseline. When the nervous system is balanced, we are less likely to experience stress reactions in the body even if we are in a potentially stressful situation.
Light touch stimulates the release of oxytocin; the feel-good hormone usually associated with bonding that also strengthens the immune system and improves fertility. More vigorous and structural forms of massage stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, the “rest-and-digest” function.
The rubbing, pressing, and stroking of massage increase circulation and blood flow. Increased circulation improves the body’s ability pump oxygen and nutrients into all of the organs.
Massage also stimulates the lymphatic system, increasing the body’s ability to flush out toxins and defend itself from invaders. This helps protect the body from developing illnesses such as cancer. In a study done on breast cancer patients, those who received massages had a higher count of the cells that fight cancer. Massage also lowers blood pressure and inflammation, which means a healthier heart and lungs.
Massage’s stress-reducing effects translate to a stronger immune system. When the body is under chronic stress, it produces hormones that inhibit immune function. This is one of the reasons stressed people tend to get sick more often.
Massage increases the cytotoxic capacity of the immune system, inspiring the cells that protect against bacteria and disease to work better and faster. It also reduces T-cell count, which makes the whole system more efficient.
4. Treating Chronic Illness/Pain
Massage has proven helpful for people working with chronic pain. In a study done on back pain sufferers, frequent massage created more relief than muscle relaxants, painkillers, and anti-inflammatory drugs.
Massage relieves muscle tension, improves muscle tone, reduces inflammation, and can address structural misalignments and joint tightness that are often the causes of pain. Massage is also an effective pain relief strategy for those with fibromyalgia, lupus, arthritis, migraines, and sports injuries.
And on a chemical level, massage triggers the release of the brain’s natural pain relievers, including endorphins, dopamine, and oxytocin.
For chronic pain sufferers, a moment of relief can translate to big improvements and even ending of the pain for good. Chronic pain can create self-perpetuating loops in the nervous system if not treated quickly enough. This means the nervous system keeps creating the sensation of pain, even if the original injury has healed. But massage can interrupt those pain loops, allowing the entire body to relax completely and the nervous system to reset.
5. Mental Health
Massage has been shown to support mental health. By balancing the nervous system and inspiring relaxation, it can relieve anxiety and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Massage increases the levels of serotonin, one of the brain chemicals responsible for our ability to experience happiness and pleasure. Regular massage can be nearly as effective as antidepressant medications in increasing serotonin production.
And any kind of nurturing touch can be helpful for people with most types of mental illness. The ability to relax and be comforted by the touch of another can do wonders for anyone’s mental well-being.
The next time you are feeling sore, sad, or tense, you might want to consider getting a massage. Or you simply take some “vitamin M,” knowing that a massage will support your long-term health even as it makes you feel better in the moment. Be sure to work with a licensed professional, and that he or she practices a style of massage that suits your needs and wishes. Then enjoy this combination of delightful luxury and health-boosting activity to support your healthy lifestyle.