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

A good massage feels great, we all know that. Is it all in our head? Based on science, the answer is 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. 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, 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 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 great, except that this effect doesn’t really last very long. To maintain the benefit, you have to maintain the massages.

Not that we should be surprised. 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. 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, a lot of other studies were done and proved that massage does has this stress reduction effect, although temporary. These consequent studies also particularly emphasized the benefits of massage when done on a continuous basis. As part of a particular research project, nurses were given either massage (25 minutes, 2x a week) or placebo for four weeks straight. 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 .

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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 whether that’s true or not, it won’t even matter. As long as it does what it does, then we’re having it.

Finally, there’s the other perception that massage is all about the human touch. And it could be partly true, because there’s a good amount of research proving that the human touch does provide health benefits. On the other hand, massage can also work in any other ways, considering the various methods used to achieve different effects, from plain and simple stress reduction to pain management for cancer patients. In any case, a trained professional is always the best person to provide massage.

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