Short Course on Health – Getting to Square 1

Massage as a Stress Buster (And Why It’s NOT All in Your Mind)

We all know how a good massage can make us feel relaxed and refreshed. Is it all just a feeling? Science says no. Massage can actually help decrease hormonal markers of stress, and that’s backed by evidence.

Of course, we’re also aware of the importance of stress management. Everyday, we hear news about new studies showing that stress can make us more vulnerable to all kinds of health issues, from obesity to cancer. Still, it always seems so difficult to avoid stress, and we’re usually left with hardly any solution. Fortunately, we can always get a massage, unless it’s contraindicated, such as after an acute muscle injury.

According to different studies, it was found that massage reduces cortisol (the infamous stress hormone) levels. Which is great, except that this effect doesn’t really last very long. To keep getting the benefit, you have to keep getting the massages.

Not that we should be surprised. After all, stress is an everyday part of our lives. It’s just like having to shower everyday. The next day, we get dirty again, take another shower to keep us clean, and so on. If you want to keep your stress hormones at a safe level, you have to keep getting a massage.

This study was done about seven years ago. Since then, many other studies have been performed, proving that massage indeed has this positive effect on stress levels, although short-lived. These consequent studies also particularly emphasized the benefits of massage when done on a continuous basis. As part of a particular research project, nurses were given either massage (25 minutes, 2x a week) or placebo for four weeks straight. At the end of the fourth week, those who were in the intervention group were found to have lower cortisol levels. This reinforces earlier conclusions that regular massage is required to help you maintain a low-stress state .

While it’s now clear how massage affects stress, there is no clear explanation why. Some people think “massage” is just excuse for someone who wants to lie still and do nothing for an hour or so. But true or not, it probably shouldn’t even matter. As long as it provides the benefits it does, then we’re all for it.

Lastly, some people think the benefits of massage have something to do with the human touch. And this may be partially true, since a good amount of research does prove the health benefits of the human touch. On the other hand, massage can also work in any other ways, considering the various methods used to achieve different effects, from plain and simple stress reduction to pain management for cancer patients. In any case, it’s always good to get your massage from a trained professional.

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