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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? Based on science, the answer is no. Massage can actually help decrease hormonal markers of stress, and that’s backed by evidence.

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).

According to different studies, it was found that massage reduces cortisol (the infamous 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 find this surprising. After all, stress has become but an ordinary part of life. It’s just like having to shower everyday. The following day, we go out into the big grimy world again and take another shower, and so on. If you want to maintain safe stress hormone levels, you need to get a massage regularly.

This study was done about seven years ago. From that time on, plenty other studies were done and proved that massage indeed lowered stress levels in the body, albeit temporarily. These latter studies also focused specifically on the benefits of massage if done continuously. As part of a particular research project, nurses were given either massage (25 minutes, 2x a week) or placebo for four weeks straight. 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.

Though we can all see that massage can help reduce stress, why it creates that effect is 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 provides the benefits it does, then we’re all for 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 be effective in several other ways, knowing that different methods are used to produce different effects, from pain management to plain and simple reduction. In any case, a trained professional is always the best person to provide massage.

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