Recent studies suggest that a massage can not only help you relax, but may also benefit your immune system.
Researchers who provide massage therapy at the Outpatient Physical Therapy Clinic, UAB Rehabilitation Center, identified two reasons why massage can help you stay healthier: immediate changes in the body and cumulative effects of regular massage.
Changes to the body
Immediate changes in the body come from the stress reduction gained during the session. Your heart rate can decrease, your breathing can deepen and slow, your brain gets a few minutes of rest time. There are benefits long term as well:
“Over the long-term, the benefits of massage accumulate; massage can increase a person’s range of motion, strengthen the immune system and provide an improved sense of well-being” A. Kelly, University of Alabama, 2013
In another study by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles (2010), participants who had a 45-minute massage experienced an increase in the number of lymphocytes, which are white blood cells that play a large role in defending the body from disease.
“This research indicates that massage doesn’t only feel good, it also may be good for you,” said study researcher Dr. Mark Rapaport, chairman of the department of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences, at Cedars-Sinai.
The massage brought other physical changes, too. Afterwards, participants had lower levels of cytokines, which are molecules that play a role in inflammation. Chronically high levels of inflammation are known to be associated with conditions such as asthma, cardiovascular disease and depression.
Changes more than physical
The massages in the Cedars-Sanai study also had an impact on participants’ hormone levels. Receiving a massage decreased levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, and vasopressin, a hormone believed to play a role in aggressive behavior, according to the reserachers.
Nothing can substitute for clean living, including the proper amount of exercise and a nutritious diet, but massage is a great compliment to those wellness promoters and it may help you strengthen your immune system.
For simple relaxation and stress relief, a once a month massage is recommended. For cumulative, long-lasting pain relief massage anywhere from once a week to once every two weeks can help. Either way, the benefits are clear.