Ten Surprising Ways Massage Can Improve Your Life
Oxytocin is increased – this is the “cuddle hormone” often released in new mothers to bond with babies and also during orgasm. It is the bonding hormone that helps you connect and feel good with another person.
Reduces stress – Perhaps the biggest studied effect of massage is that it reduces cortisol levels in the blood Cortisol is the stress hormone released when the body and mind are under pressure.
One recent study indicated that the reduction in this hormone is directly linked to affects of stress. So the reduction in stress comes not just from taking time out or relaxing, but a the physiological effects of reducing this hormone in the body by massage.
Immune system – studies have also shown that massage can also increase immune cells in the body such as lymphocytes
Enhances growth, especially among infants and premature babies. There is now a significant body of research showing the power of touch to infants and how essential this is for their growth. Initial studies in rat babies showed a decrease in growth hormones when removed from their mothers. When the babies received simulated licking that mimicked the touch and stroking of the mother, the growth hormone levels rose again.
These also showed less cortisol during the periods of being touched by their mothers as well. This has transferred to the human sphere, where premature babies also show lower levels of cortisol when massaged. Further studies have shown that premature babies put on more weight (up to 45% more) when they receive regular Swedish massage than those who don’t.
These babies also scored better on the Brazelton Neonatal Behavior Assessment Scale and displayed more normal levels of norephrenine compared to those babies who did not receive the treatment. There were similar positive results for babies of cocaine addicted mothers and also those with HIV positive mothers. Some tips on how to do an infant massage are here
Full term babies also benefit from massage, in not only weight gain but also memory – one study compared babies who were massaged as opposed to being rocked. The massaged babies had lower cortisol levels indicating lower stress, and also better sleep patterns, suggesting that massaging as opposed to rocking might help better with settling babies.
Full term babies who were massaged also gained more weight, it seems because of an increase in food absorbing hormones such as insulin from the massage, not because they were eating more calories. There is also some evidence to suggest that a baby’s memory is also improved with massage, with one study showing that babies that were massaged scored higher on the Bayley Scales for Infant Development in the mental capacity than a control group.
Reduces anxiety and depression during pregnancy – because massage reduces cortisol, whilst simultaneously increasing dopamine, it can reduce anxiety and depression during pregnancy. One study indicated that pregnant women who received regular massages, as opposed to a control group of pregnant women who received relaxation therapy, showed lower levels of cortisol, lower levels of anxiety and depression, had less pregnancy pain, less sleep disturbances and lower levels of postnatal complications. As massage increases oxytocin, it can also be beneficial for inducing labour and helping labour progression.
Helps with severe pain and reducing pain, not just of the muscles – massage has been shown to reduce anxiety in burns patients about to undergo painful treatments, and also in the perception of patients with post operative pain. Tips on how to reduce anxiety are here.
Fibromyalgia, lower back pain, and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis pain – several studies have supported the idea that these three conditions in particular are assisted by massage therapy in reducing pain, anxiety and depression. In some of these studies, there was an increase in dopamine and serotonin levels. Here are some ideas on how to reduce back pain.
Reduces depression and anxiety – many studies have indicated that massage can increase dopamine and serotonin and show reduction in depression and anxiety symptoms.