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

We all know how relaxing and uplifting a good massage can be. Is it all in our head? Science says no. Massage can actually help lower the body’s hormonal markers of stress, and that’s supported by evidence.

Of course, the importance of stress management is also well-known to us. Every now and then, we read or hear about news confirming the big role stress plays in the development of various diseases and medical conditions, from cancer to obesity and everything else. Still, many of us find it hard to keep ourselves from being stressed, and we’re often left without much of a solution. Fortunately, we can always get a massage, unless it’s contraindicated, such as after an acute muscle injury.

Various studies have proven that massage decreases the body’s cortisol – the stress hormone – levels. Which is fantastic, except that this effect is short-lived. To extend the life of this benefit, you have to keep getting massages.

Not that we should be surprised. After all, our world has become stressful, whether we like it or not. It’s just like having to take a shower each and everyday. The next day, we get dirty again, take another shower to keep us clean, and so on. If you want to maintain safe stress hormone levels, you need to get a massage regularly.

This study was conducted around 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. In a specific research project involving nurses as subjects, either 25-minute, twice-a-week massages or placebo were given over the course of four consecutive weeks. At the end of the fourth week, lower cortisol levels were found in the subjects who belonged to the intervention group. This reinforces earlier conclusions that regular massage is required to help you maintain a low-stress state .

While the positive effects of massage on stress are now established, the reasons are still unknown. 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 does what it does, then we’re having it.

Finally, for other people, it’s the human touch in massage that gives it its power. And this could be true in a way, considering there’s a good amount of research showing the health benefits of the human touch. On the other hand, it is logical to assume that massage also works in other ways, noting that unique methods are used to provide unique effects, such as pain reduction in cancer patients and everyday stress relief. In any case, it’s always best to choose a trained staff to give you a massage.

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