We all know how relaxing and uplifting a good massage can be. Is it all in our head? According to science, no. Massage can actually help bring down hormonal markers of stress in the body ,and there’s proof to that.
Of course, we’re also aware of the importance of stress management. From time to time, we hear about studies showing how stress can increase our vulnerability to all sorts of health problems, from weight gain to autoimmune diseases such as cancer. Still, we couldn’t seem to stop ourselves from being stressed, and we’re usually left with barely any solution. Fortunately, we can always rely on a nice massage, except when it’s contraindicated (for instance, when we’re inebriated).
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 maintain the benefit, you have to maintain the massages.
Not that this is surprising. After all, stress is an everyday part of our lives. It’s no different from having to get a shower each day. The next day, we get dirty again, take another shower to keep us clean, and so on. You have to keep getting a massage if you want to maintain safe stress hormone levels.
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. 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. By the end of the fourth week, nurses in the intervention set were found to have significantly lower cortisol levels. This further strengthens earlier conclusions that regular massage can help you maintain a low-stress state.
While it’s now clear how massage affects stress, there is no clear explanation why. Some say “massage” is no more than an excuse to relieve the guilt of lying down and being unproductive. But true or not, it probably shouldn’t even matter. If it does what it does, then we’ll have it.
Finally, there’s the other perception that massage is all about 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, 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, a trained professional is always the best person to provide massage.