Nowadays many of us may perceive a massage as a luxury, with no other purpose than enjoyment. However, massage actually has a long and varied history as a medical treatment. Massage has been used to heal the body and mind for at least 4,000 years. The first written mentions of massage as medicine are seen in the ancient literature of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Since then, the health benefits of massage have become common knowledge, and many forms of massage have been developed specifically to improve health. There are almost one hundred distinct styles of massage that each have a unique goal in mind.
Development of Massage
Massage became popular in the United States in the 1850s when Swedish massage was introduced to the country. This century saw the opening of the first American massage clinic. In Germany, massage was first introduced at the end of the 19th century. The practice of massage continued to see great popularity for many decades thereafter. However, in modern 21st-century life, massage has fallen out of favor as a routine health practice. Surveys conducted by the American Massage Therapy Association have found that only 19 percent of Americans receive at least one massage per year.
It is unfortunate how few people receive regular massages, as doing so has many potent health benefits. This stimulation of soft tissue stimulates circulation, stimulates the lymphatic system that drains the body of waste and toxins and changes the levels of various hormones.
Massage Reduces Stress and Boosts Immunity
Cortisol is the hormone most associated with stress. Undergoing mental or physical stress increases levels of this hormone, and chronically high cortisol levels pose various health risks. Getting a massage has been scientifically proven to lower cortisol levels.
One study on this topic was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine and used 53 adults as subjects. Researchers split them into two groups and had one group undergo Swedish massage and the other, light-touch massage. This massage regimen was to take place for 45 minutes, once or twice a week for five weeks.
The results of the study showed that Swedish massage is more effective than light-touch massage for decreasing levels of cortisol and increasing levels of oxytocin, a hormone associated with trust, happiness, emotional bonding and well-being. The volunteers who underwent Swedish massage also showed some evidence of increased white blood cell count, which is a sign of a heightened immune ability.
Lowered stress, boosted mood and a better immune system are just a few of the great benefits of getting a massage. This practice can be effective for treating medical problems such as anxiety, depression, digestive disorders, fibromyalgia, headache, high blood pressure, insomnia, muscle stiffness and pain and sports injuries. The healing properties of massage are so potent that studies have even shown that premature babies grow significantly faster when they are massaged.
Since massage lowers stress and releases endorphins, it can also be an effective preventative measure. Getting regular massages will likely reduce your risk of depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions. Since high stress levels are associated with premature death, regular massage could even lengthen your life.
The Benefits of Massage Don’t Just Apply to the Receiver!
Getting a massage is great for your mind and body. Surprisingly, giving a massage can have a similar effect. A study that proved this fact was conducted at Northumbria University in the United Kingdom and presented at the 2017 British Psychological Society’s Annual Conference.
Researchers had 19 couples give each other massages in the context of a three-week educational massage course. One partner was to receive massages while the other partner played the role of the masseuse. The researchers measured the participants’ physical and emotional health before and after the massage course and found that both the giver and receiver enjoyed reduced stress and significantly better physical and emotional well-being after the massage course.
Take Advantage of the Health Benefits of Massage
The benefits of massage are too great to ignore. People who receive regular massages enjoy better physical health and overall well-being. Since the properties of massage apply to both the giver and the receiver, massage is the perfect relaxing activity to start doing regularly with your partner. In addition to the effects massage has on the individual, the oxytocin released during a massage will promote emotional bonding with your partner. This means that creating a regular mutual massage practice can strengthen your relationship on a neurological level.
You don’t need to receive massage extremely frequently to see the benefits. You and your partner taking turns massaging each other for 30 minutes each, once a week, is a good place to start. Massage oils or lotion will facilitate the massage and make it more pleasurable. Aromatherapy massage oils—a lavender-infused massage oil, for example—can make the experience even more enjoyable and relaxing. As mentioned earlier, deeper tissue massages have greater health benefits than a light-touch massage, so be sure to massage deeply.
Taking just one hour a week to massage each other will provide impressive benefits, and it can form a great component of a romantic date night. However, be sure to ask your doctor before receiving a massage if you have a bleeding disorder, bone fracture, deep vein thrombosis, severe osteoporosis, severe thrombocytopenia or take a blood-thinning medication.