Massage may have some of the same health benefits as exercise.
The list of potential health benefits of massage beyond the perceived benefits of human touch is long but the science is not clear.
People enjoy massage because it often produces feelings of caring, comfort and connection. However, some studies have also found that massage may help with everything from anxiety to musculoskeletal disorders including strains, joint pain, back pain and osteoarthritis. The common claims underlying the benefits of massage are:
- Lower Cortisol
- Better immune function
- Increased blood flow
- Increased flexibility
So let’s look at the common claims more closely:
1/ Lower Cortisol:
Cortisol is a hormone which is also referred to as the stress hormone. Its main job is to help your body function well in times of stress.
In essence cortisol is meant to act as an emergency response stimulate to get you out of a jam. However, when you’re always in a state of emergency your body never gets a break. Without a break, your health risk for all sorts of disorders [anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, sleep disorders, weight gain, memory impairment and Cushing Syndrome] increase.
That’s why prolonged periods of stress, such as that caused by relationships with family, friends and co-workers or sustained challenges to perform well at one’s work, are toxic to your health.
There are two things that you can do to reduce your level of stress and cortisol:
1/ Develop coping strategies, such as time management strategies and conflict-resolution strategies, to limit the amount of stress in your life.
2/ Maintain a healthy lifestyle, including a healthy diet, regular exercise and adequate sleep, to increase your tolerance for stress. Similar to exercise, massage may facilitate the release of endorphins which helps to reduce stress and feelings of depression.
2/ Better Immune Function:
A new observational study has found a strong link between certain traumatic life stresses and autoimmune disorders including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, Crohn’s disease and celiac disease. However, according to Harvard Health, there are no scientifically proven direct links between lifestyle and enhanced immune function. Every part of your body, including your immune system, functions better when protected from environmental assaults and bolstered by healthy-living strategies.
Healthy-living strategies specifically mentioned include:
- Don’t smoke.
- Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables.
- Exercise regularly.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Drink alcohol in moderation.
- Get adequate sleep.
- Take steps to avoid infection by washing hands frequently.
- Minimize stress.
3/ Increased blood flow + flexibility
Blood circulation is the constant movement of blood throughout the body. As the blood circulates essential nutrients and oxygen are delivered to promote cell growth and healthy organ function and to carry waste away from the organs.
Regular exercise promotes good circulation by allowing the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and to do their job efficiently. Massage may facilitate a similar benefit.
Massage facilitates blood circulation to the affected or injured muscles, which increases nutrients and oxygen to the damaged tissues. The increased activity to the affected sites may also reduce stiffness and swelling in the muscles and joints and increase flexibility.