The benefits of massage are immediately obvious to anyone who's had one. A massage session calms you down, eases your anxieties, and even helps you sleep at night. Now a study, funded by the government's National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, finds that those sessions may help you ward off diseases, too.
THE DETAILS: For the study, published in the Journal of Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, the authors recruited 53 healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 45 and divided them into two groups: one that received a traditional Swedish massage, and another that received a session of light touch meant to simulate a massage but without any actual massage-therapy techniques. The Swedish massages were all performed by certified massage therapists to ensure uniformity. Each participant had an IV inserted into one arm for the duration of the massage and for a few hours afterward, and blood was drawn at various intervals to measure levels of various hormones and immune-system markers.
The authors were working under the theory that massages increase the body's levels of oxytocin, or "the love hormone," which itself helps regulate levels of hormones related to stress. Yet they found that that wasn't the case. People receiving the "light touch" treatment actually experienced higher levels of oxytocin than the massage recipients. But unlike the light-touch group, the massage recipients saw significant decreases in stress hormones and increases in the body's production of various cells that boost immune-system response.
A single massage could help boost your immune system and help you better cope with stress, even if you're not sick or stressed out. "I'm really intrigued by our findings," says Mark Hyman Rapaport, M.D., professor and chairman of the department of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, who adds that he was an "incredible skeptic" about the benefits of massage therapy before doing this study. "I always wondered, what does it do that so many people claim to feel better afterwards?" he says. "We're finding that biological changes do occur as a result of even a single session of massage, and that these changes may benefit even a healthy individual."