Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Is Massage Real Medicine?

By Karen Cicero for Completely You

I’ve got a little something for you this Valentine’s Day. It’s not chocolate -- though eating a piece or two of the dark kind this week would actually be pretty good for you. (See my story about it here.) It’s something wonderfully calorie-free: a massage.

OK, I can’t reach through the Web and virtually rub your back. But I can give you a darn good reason to rationalize to your sweetie why you need a massage -- or at least a gift card to get one at a spa.

It all started a couple of months ago when my husband was out of town. He called me one morning, and I was in a great mood: “The spa I love is on Groupon today,” I squealed like a little girl. He didn’t get the significance. Then I explained that I can treat myself to a 90-minute massage at half price. He still didn’t get the significance. “Do you want to buy a Groupon?” he asked. I told him I already did.

To me, a massage (at least one from a pro) is major luxury; the discount gave me a reason to splurge. But a couple of days later, while scanning the health headlines, I came across a study from the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami (can you believe that there’s such a place?) that suggested massage was worth my money as much as a gym membership. The study found that a single massage can raise your level of the feel-good hormone serotonin, lower stress hormones and jumpstart immune-boosting cells.

I had to know more. So I called Tiffany Field, the institute’s director. She told me that her group has literally done hundreds of studies on massage. (Um, if you need volunteers … ) “We’ve shown that massage helps fight depression, anxiety, headaches, asthma, immune diseases and cancer,” said Field.

“But how?” I asked. “When you stimulate the pressure receptors in your skin, you slow down heart rate and blood pressure and lower the amount of the hormone cortisol being produced by your body,” she explained. “Cortisol destroys your body’s natural killer cells -- the ones that help to fend off infections, viruses and even cancer.” So reducing it is extremely healthy.

Oooh. This was sounding really good. Before Field had to go, I squeezed in one last question: “What kind of massage do you recommend?” (I was hoping she’s a fan of deep-tissue -- my favorite type.) “Actually, it doesn’t matter,” she said. “As long as at least moderate pressure is applied, the benefits are the same.”

And then she recommended that couples make an appointment to get a professional massage at least once to learn some basic techniques that they can use on each other weekly. Now, that’s one doctor’s order it will be a pleasure to follow!

Want to get started? Here are some Swedish massage strokes to prepare you for Valentine’s Day:

Got a question you’re dying to ask a health expert? Don’t keep it to yourself! Comment below or message me @Completely_You

Karen Cicero is Completely You’s “Need to Know” blogger. A health journalist and magazine editor with more than 15 years of experience, she has contributed to such publications as Prevention, Self and Health, and has edited the dental column for Heart & Soul magazine.

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