When your muscles are knotted or you desperately need to relax there’s nothing more heavenly than a whole-body rubdown from your favorite therapist. But aside from feeling fantastic, a massage offers health benefits that far exceed the obvious. Research shows the power of touch can help reduce pain, anxiety, depression, promote immune function, lower heart rate and blood pressure, and even improve asthmatic conditions. Bottom line: Massage could be the unsung hero of the health world.

In a study on 53 healthy adults published in the October 2010 Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers in Cedars-Sinai’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences looked at two types of treatments. Tests showed that participants who had a Swedish massage (moderate pressure) had decreases in stress hormones and increases in white blood cells, or an immune system boost. Those who received “light touch” treatment reported higher levels of the love and cuddle hormone oxytocin. The research suggests massage could even help treat inflammatory and autoimmune conditions and seems to prove that we are hard-wired to respond positively to touch.

Here are some of the specific physiological benefits that go along with getting a massage:

Muscular System — Aside from relieving soreness, tension, and stiffness massage can improve the flow of nutrients to muscles and joints, accelerating recovery from fatigue and injury.

Skeletal System —Massage decreases inflammation and restores range of motion (increasing joint movement). It also improves the circulation and nutrients of your joints.
Skin —Massage improves skin tone by removing dead cells and improving circulation. It also improves elasticity of skin and helps normalize glandular functions.

Circulatory System—Massage increases the number of red blood cells, especially in cases of anemia. It also helps lower blood pressure and reduce the heart rate (which strengthens the heart in the long run).

Lymphatic System—Massage cleanses the body of wastes and toxic debris and stimulates the immune system.

Respiratory System—Massage helps regulate respiration and promotes deeper and easier breathing.

Nervous System—Massage has the unique ability to both stimulate the nervous system (thereby boosting energy), or calm the nervous system depending on the type and length of the treatment. Massage can also relieve restlessness and insomnia and stimulate your body’s natural painkillers (endorphins).

Endocrine System—Massage can help support hormonal balance (through immune system regulation) and develop restful sleep patterns.

Digestive System—Abdominal massage helps relieve constipation and stimulate activity of the liver and kidneys.

Now there’s no need to feel guilty scheduling regular massage! You just need to think of this as essential self-care—and do it for the health of it.

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