If I won the lottery, one of the first things I’d do is put a massage therapist on retainer to come de-kink my muscles daily. (Of course, if I won the lottery I’d probably be a lot less tense in the first place!)
Being on a less luxurious budget, though, I can only manage this monthly at the most. So after several days of traveling last week– always stressful, even when things run smoothly — I enjoyed a much-needed, long massage session yesterday. Which got me thinking about the benefits of massage therapy and why I need to do this more often.
Manipulating the body’s muscles, connective tissue, tendons, ligaments and skin does many good things, including a few that aren’t immediately obvious.
Reduces stress. Relaxation is probably the #1 reason people get massages, but there are real health benefits to reducing stress. When you’re tense, you instinctively breathe faster to quickly increase levels of oxygen in your blood. But this also raises your blood pressure. As a result, frequent or chronic stress makes your heart work too hard for too long.
Elevates your mood. Research has shown that massage has a direct impact on lowering the levels of stress hormones adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine that cause the “fight-or-flight” response. At the same time, it helps release “feel good” neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, endorphins and oxytocin.
Improves circulation. As the therapist presses down, blood moves through congested areas. And the release of this same pressure causes new blood to flow in. That helps get oxygen to all your body’s cells.
Boosts energy. Since massage aids blood flow, it delivers oxygen to all your body’s cells, which we need for energy.
Soothes anxiety. If you’re not in a relationship or you spend a lot of time alone, it’s especially important to stay literally “in touch” with others. Human touch is a basic need, as long as it’s safe and comfortable.
Encourages restful sleep. Especially if you have your massage later in the day, and keep that relaxed feeling going by taking a warm – not hot – bath before bed.
Reduces muscle tension and pain. By relaxing tight spots throughout your body, massage is an effective way to reduce pain, even for people with chronic conditions. A 2011 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reported that massage therapy was as effective as other treatments for chronic back pain.
Counteracts too much sitting. Got an office job? Chances are, your posture is suffering and your neck and shoulders are taking a hit. Postural stress can also manifest as pain, soreness or weakness in your lower back and gluteal muscles, aka your butt.
Helps you cope with the pain and stress of chronic conditions and disease, such as stomach problems, fibromyalgia, cancer, and heart disease. Interestingly, women diagnosed with breast cancer who received massage therapy three times a week reported feeling less depressed and less angry, according to a 2005 study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience. That’s pretty amazing, I think.
Eliminates toxins (or does it?) Your therapist may tell you to drink a lot of water to flush out toxins after your massage. But what are toxins anyway? They’ve become a scary buzzword for the buildup of nasty environmental substances that are wreaking havoc in our bodies.
While there are situations that are truly dangerous (e.g., chronic exposure to radon, asbestos and cigarette smoke), it seems that a lot of “detoxing” is more money-making hype than true science, and is at best a temporary “fix”.
Our lungs, kidneys and pancreas are already designed to remove harmful substances. Nonetheless, it’s always a good idea to drink water and rehydrate after a massage,
Improves flexibility and range of motion by loosening up your muscles.
Relieves headaches. According to researchers at the University of Granada in Spain, a single 30-minute trigger point massage decreased tension, anger status and perceived pain in patients with chronic tension-type headaches.
Boosts immunity. By decreasing levels of cortisol, massage can contribute to stress reduction and management. Massage therapy also increases the activity level of the body’s white blood cells that work to combat viruses. According to research from Cedars-Sinai, participants in a Swedish massage group experienced significant changes in lymphocytes, which play a large role in defending the body from disease.
Helps you lose weight. Sorry, massage doesn’t directly cause weight loss. But it helps release endorphins in the body that make us feel happy. And by doing healthy things for our bodies, we build a better relationship with ourselves. Which may make us less likely to use food as a stress reliever.
Have a great weekend! xx, Alisa