To Your Health
March, 2009 (Vol. 03, Issue 03)
In terms of stress, massage does much more than offset those stress chemicals; it also helps symptoms that are closely intertwined with the stress response. Evidence suggests massage improves circulation and joint mobility, lowers blood pressure, and improves energy and concentration. With better circulation, more oxygen and nutrients reach your vital organs and tissues, and more lymph fluid flows to fight off disease. Massage also improves muscle function, flexibility, and range of motion, and decreases muscle spasms and cramping.
Massage in the Mainstream
A study by the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami showed less stress and improved performance for a small sample of employees (against a control group), who had twice-weekly, 15-minute massages in the office. We can thank Silicon Valley for introducing the idea of chair massage into the workplace as an employee benefit. Those West Coast innovators knew that happy employees were more productive.
Chair massage in the office is a wonderful way for those who've never tried massage to get a sample. Little wonder the Society for Human Resource Management reported in 2007 that 13 percent of its 210,000 member companies offer workplace massage, and an article in Working Mother magazine reported that 77 percent of the top 100 U.S. companies offer massage at work.
Another way chair massage has worked its way into the mainstream is its presence as an airport or mall amenity, places where people are often stressed, rushed, or sagging under the weight of luggage or shopping bags. Chair massage is performed completely clothed in a private or semiprivate kiosk, often for 10-20 minutes, and is a great introduction to massage for those with a sudden impulse to try something new and no desire to commit more than a few minutes.
An Adjunct to Exercise
People who look after their health also tend to exercise more, and exercise is an incredible stress reducer. The benefits of exercise can be exponentially more valuable when combined with massage. Many athletes use massage before an event, visualizing their best performance while activating corresponding muscles. Afterward, massage can reduce recovery time until the next event or workout. And of course, there's that glorious massage to relieve discomfort after you've overdone it on the tennis court, bike path or elliptical machine. As your massage therapist works out that lactic acid from your stiff muscles, you can relax and congratulate yourself on doing the right thing. As the old saying goes, it hurts, but it's a good kind of hurt. (Note: Tell your massage therapist if the pressure they're applying or a particular technique becomes too uncomfortable.) You can extend the wonders of exercise by combining it with strategically timed massage. Treating yourself to a massage is a wonderful reward for staying active and delivers a one-two punch to unwelcome stress.
The Promise of Prevention
Up to 90 percent of disease may be caused by stress. Perhaps nowhere can massage be more important for healthy people than in the prevention of innumerable ailments. At the very least, one can argue stress and its chemical agents play a role in making any infirmity worse, so dealing with stress proactively is an ounce of prevention in slowing or outright stopping disease in its tracks. Numerous studies have shown massage stimulates and strengthens the immune system. One study showed massage produced an increased number of natural killer cells, thought to defend the body against viral and cancer cells. What better evidence do you need that regular massage - some people aim for weekly or monthly regimes - should be part of your wellness planning?
More and more doctors are integrating massage therapy services into their practices. Talk to your doctor about the health consequences of stress and how massage and other types of natural therapy can help.
Nora Brunner is the public relations specialist for Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (www.abmp.org), a national massage membership organization in Golden, Colo.