Massage Benefits for the Immune System and Overall Health
While there is a lot of talk and speculation about the health benefits of massage, one thing is for certain: It feels darn good! There is, however, research evidence that massage is a great way to build up your immune system and that it aids in other physical health benefits.
Massage Boosts the Immune System
Research indicates that massage therapy can help prevent the cold and flu by strengthening the immune system. Studies involving patients with compromised immune systems have found massage therapy can improve how the immune system functions, benefits which can be translated to those trying to ward off the common cold, flu, and seasonal illnesses.
But exactly how does massage therapy increase immunity? Primarily, it increases the activity level of the body’s white blood cells that fight viruses. A Cedars-Sinai study found that participants in a Swedish massage group experienced significant changes in lymphocytes, which contribute a great deal to defending the body from disease. A lymphocyte is one of three subtypes of white blood cells in the immune system.
This increase in white blood cells is a result of a decrease in cortisol. “We know that cortisol destroys natural killer cells,” says Tiffany Field, Ph.D., director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine. “Therefore, since massage decreases cortisol, your immune cells get a boost.”
Massage Benefits for Compromised Immune Systems
One 12-week controlled study composed of HIV-positive adolescents showed that those who received massage therapy experienced enhanced immune function by the end of the study. This included increased white blood cells known as natural killer (NK) cells, which provide rapid responses to viral-infected cells.
Another randomized study found women with stage 1 and 2 breast cancer because of the increase in dopamine and serotonin levels in addition to the boost in NK cells and lymphocytes. These long-term benefits work to strengthen the immune system and cognitive function during sickness. Patients also experienced short-term benefits including reduced anxiety.
Other Physical Changes from Massage
In addition to improving immunity, the Cedars-Sinai study showed that massage helps lower levels of cytokines, molecules that play a role in inflammation. Conditions like asthma, cardiovascular disease, and depression are associated with chronically high levels of inflammation.
Finally, participants in the study experienced a decrease in another stress hormone known as vasopressin, which is believed to play a role in aggressive behavior.
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