5 Reasons why Massage Therapy is Anti-Aging
Massage has been used for centuries for both therapeutic and pampering purposes. Modern medicine has, however, changed our perception towards massage and created an illusion in which massage is seen as a luxury in which most cannot invest.
I mean to help change this perception and rather reform massage therapies fame! It is, and should be used as, a preventative medicine technique. Its preventative health benefits should be valued and its uses expanded to conjunctive therapies for many diseases.
Recent studies have shown proof, massage therapy can provide us with much more than just a temporary feel-good effect.
These studies show, using massage, we are increasing our overall psychological feeling of wellness. We are also, via its physiological benefits, preventing ailments that tend to occur as a result of aging. Massage Therapy should, therefore, be considered Anti-Aging.
Below are my top 5 reasons why Massage Therapy should be incorporated into our lives and used to help keep our bodies youthful.
1. Massage can decrease stress response and its health related issues.
I have spoken about the medical concerns stress brings about in previous posts. (See previous blogs, “Your Waistlines and Health” and “Beauty Sleep”). Stress is a detrimental age accelerator than costs you your looks, your health and your sanity. It must be controlled and massage can help.
Chronic stress causes, among other things, an increase in cortisol and insulin levels. Cortisol leaves our body tense, our heart rate and blood pressure high and puts pressure on our organs to work harder. This increase demand on all our body systems also puts us at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and heart attack. Chronic insulin release can lead to insensitivity in the bodies insulin receptors (eventually not responding to insulin as before), and therefore higher risk for diabetes. The worst part of these stress effects is that the often feed off on another. Once the body starts to suffer from tension, increased heart rate and extreme variants in glucose levels, it goes into alert mode. Each sign of stress signals further physiological symptoms which also signal stress. This dangerous cycle is very tiresome for the body and it is in desperate need for a recharge, a way to relax and be comforted.
This is where Massage Therapy has its value. Studies reported in the Intensive and Critical Care Nursing Journal that during the five minute foot massage, critically ill patients experienced decrease heart rate, blood pressure and respirations. This evidence was used to make conclusions that massage induced relaxation resulted in physiological health benefits. Another long term study showed that massage programs can decrease blood pressure and cortisol stress hormone levels, improving cardiovascular health and decreasing anxiety and depression.
How does massage therapy decrease stress?
There are several mechanisms of action which massage therapy has shown its value.
- Decrease cortisol and insulin levels while increasing calming serotonin and dopamine: see above.
- Encourages oxytocin release: Oxytocin is a stress reducing, bonding hormone most famous for its role in birthing. It helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system to slow down heart rate and breathing, relax musculature and improve digestion.
- Increases endorphin release: Endorphins are pain reducing neurotransmitters. Anxiety created by stress can cause increase sensitivity to pain. Endorphins help stop transmission of pain signals.
- Decrease Beta Brainwave activity: This leads to increase stimulated release of relaxing neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine as well as decreased release of cortisol levels.
- Stimulates Delta Brainwave activity: This type of brain activity is one which facilitates deep sleep induction….explaining the natural tendency to dose off during your session!
2. Massage Therapy can help improve circulation.
The circulatory system is compromised of the cardiovascular system and lymphatic system.
Our cardiovascular system is responsible for circulating blood and therefore distributing oxygen and nutrients to all tissues. As we age the cardiovascular system declines due to buildup of plaque (vessels become smaller and blood flow impeded due to poor high cholesterol diets), reduced elasticity of vasculature (vessels loose ability to dilate and contract due to loss of collagen, elastin and plaque) and stress (receptors become less responsive due to over stimulation, resulting in high blood pressure and poor circulation to various tissues). Massage may not be able to control your cholesterol level but can help decrease stress on cardiovascular system and improve vessel health by improving overall tissue nutrition. Seeing that cardiovascular disease is a strong risk factor for premature death, (heart disease is still number one cause of death in most developed countries), a natural way to help decrease influencing contributors should be put into practice.
Our lymphatic system plays an important role in waste removal and in aiding an efficient immune system response. The waste it removes includes excess fluid, pathogens, dead blood cells, toxins and cells implicated in cancer. It assists immune function by distributing immune cells throughout the body to help filter out and protect against harmful agents. An efficient lymphatic circulation mean rapid defense against infection and cleaner blood and tissues. A person with poor lymphatic system circulation can suffer from a variety of discomforts including pain, pooling of the fluid in the extremities (arms and legs), cold hands and feet, fatigue and achiness. Massage can help improve lymphatic circulation system and prevent toxic waste accumulation causing these symptoms and improve overall health.
How does massage work to improve circulation?
- By creating strategic manipulation and pressure along the various tissues and along the extremities, it facilitates improved blood flow.
- By Releasing points of the pressure, we cause fresh oxygenated and nutrient rich blood to perfuse congested areas.
- By working along musculature we are helping disperse lactic acid and carbonic acid waste which builds up in muscles after activity and get it into lymphatic circulation. By removing waste out of muscle and into a mobilized lymphatic system, we are preventing pain and muscle fatigue they cause.
- Massage has proven to be 3 to 4 times more efficient at recovering muscle than rest alone. Boxers are commonly massaged between rounds to help recharge muscles and combat fatigue.
- Since lymphatic system runs quite superficially under the skin, specific massage techniques have well developed to encourage better flow and ultimately allowing the technician aid in more efficient removal of lymphatic fluid.
- Improves removal of lymphatic fluid both helps improve removal of metabolic waste and reduce leg swelling and leg vein engorgement. This also means improvement in the appearance of cellulite and aid in the prevention and treatment of engorged leg veins.
- Improves lymph circulation puts less pressure on arterial blood pressure receptors and therefore keeps blood pressure low and avoiding unnecessary stress on cardiovascular system.
- Skin related benefits include assistance in overall cellular function and increasing production of skin-nurturing sebum. Sebum is our bodies’ natural lubricant; it protects, cools, calms and maintains skins youthful properties.
3. Massage Therapy can help us obtain heightened Immunity against illness and disease.
Your immune system is your body’s natural defense against foreign invaders such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and tumor formation. A strong immune system means we have optimal protection against getting sick. We depend on the production and activity of a group cells called lymphocytes, (white blood cells), to initiate an immune response and prevent illness. These cells are produced in the bone marrow but many times need to mature and differentiate in a lymphatic organ called the thymus gland. Once matured, they are release into circulation and, in larger concentrations, in the lymph fluid and nodes. Once in circulation they scavenge for signals of trouble and initiate a response to destroy pathogens and tumor cells. The lymph nodes are widely distributed and connected by a network known as the lymphatic circulation. Within lymph nodes, are a tightly packed unit of lymphocytes and macrophages which fight off any circulating offenders collected in the lymph fluid. It is for this reason we lymph nodes swell during sickness. The swelling is direclty coorelated with the disease fighting activity.
In a study conducted by Gail Ironson, M.D., HIV positive men responded to regular massage by increasing cellular immune profile, increasing blood serotonin levels, and improving overall effectiveness in fighting disease. Another report in the Journal of Complementary Medicine in 2010 reported an increase in these immune cells following massage therapy 3 times a week for 30 minutes in women with breast cancer. In addition to improved health and disease fighting ability, these patients also reported less depressed mood, anxiety and pain after their sessions. Additionally, a report in the International Journal of Neuroscience in 2010 showed that leg massage promoted and reinforced the immune system by increasing the secretion of peptides which aid in fighting bacteria.
How can massage improve immunity?
- By Improving lymphatic circulation
- As touched upon above, by improving the lymphatic circulatory system, we improve the immune response by filtering the blood better and getting more lymphocyte exposure to where these pathogens or tumor cells might be brewing.
- By increasing immune systems cytotoxic capacity
- Massage has shown to naturally improve the the immune system’s cytotoxic capacity by increasing the Natural Killer cells (a type of WBC or lymphocyte that has large role in our immune response and releases cytotoxic granules to fight viruses and tumor cells).
- By decreasing circulating levels of cortisol and insulin and increasing serotonin and peptides.
- Since both cortisol and insulin are linked with impaired immune function, massage can also help immunity by controlling levels of these stress hormones.
- Serotonin releases and bacteria fighting peptides have been linked to improved immunity.
4. Prevents Muscular Strain
Regular massage therapy can help prevent muscle tension, spasms and pains in joints as they are repeatedly overused, unconditioned and dedicated to keeping us in unnatural, uncomfortable positions. As we age we have less time to take care of ourselves and nurture our decreasingly elastic muscles and stiff joints. It doesn’t help that we tend to gain weight, sit at desks hours on end and use our muscles in the same way for the same functions day in and out.
With Time Magazine reporting 8 of 10 Americans complaining of debilitating back pain, we need all the help we can get to improve workplace efficiency and prevent and treat contributing factors. Both muscular strain and bad skeletal alignment (see below) can contribute to back pain. Any natural treatment which can help treat pain in general without the use of aggressive and dangerous medical interventions (medications, injections, surgery), needs to be considered. Massage therapy is an ideal preventative and alternative therapy for musculoskeletal issues.
A study published in Science Translational Medicine in 2012 reported a short 10 minutes massage helped reduce inflammation post workout quickly. This allowed athletes to recover in a much shorter time period and perform more efficiently in their next session.
How can massage therapy help combat muscular tension and pain?
- Regular massage therapy relaxes these muscles and passively stretches and lengthens them. Massage is able to move our muscles in ways which help combat the tensing habits we commit them to in daily routine.
- By encouraging better blood perfusion to these tissues, we are nurturing healthier oxygen and nutrient exchange, improving its ability to regenerate and heal itself and reducing tension and pain.
- By increase blood perfusion, lengthening and softening our muscles we are also protecting our selves from injury. The healthier our muscles are, the better they can accommodate sudden movements and twists. This protects muscles from strains, tears.
- By increasing endorphins, dopamine and serotonin hormones release we can further promote muscular relaxation and health.
- Endorphins, serotonin and dopamine serve to help calm nerves and decrease pain perception.
- Can be seen as a natural alternative to reduce pain perception and stiffness. Since using pain medications can further damage your body and age you prematurely, alternative and natural pain management should be embraced whenever possible.
- Massage encourages joint health by stimulating synovial fluid, (which nourished and lubricates joints), and improving elasticity of the connective tissue and muscles that support them.
- The more flexible the tissue and muscles around the joints, the less the tug and pulling on them, preserving their integrity and health.
An additional note about massage therapy and pain relief: According to the Arthritis Foundation, massage therapy is becoming an increasingly popular alternative therapy to treat painful symptoms of arthritic disease. Doctors are realizing the efficiency and cost effectiveness to alleviate their patients of their chronic and debilitating disease related pain. Many massage therapists report that their arthritic clients find better and longer-lasting relief from massage than from pharmaceuticals.
Less pain, less medication means a longer quality life….what can be more anti-aging than that.
5. Improves posture
Poor posture doesn’t just upset your grandmother; it causes some muscles to get shorter and tighter, while allowing others to virtually wither away. Misalignment of your spine also puts added stress on your circulatory, digestive and nervous systems. As a result of poor posture, we also suffer increasing pain in various joints and along back, nerve related pain (due to pinching in spine or other constrained area), deformities which may be difficult to correct, improper digestion and limited breathing capacity (as chest and spine cave in on lungs).
How can massage help you correct this?
- Again, massage therapy relaxes and loosens the muscles and teach you what it feels like to be in proper alignment. During a massage you can experience natural muscle movements and skeletal positions. After your massage, you will be more likely to seek out these healthier movements and positions with less discomfort, ultimately contributing to improved posture and its benefits.
- The more relaxed our muscles feel the more liberated our joints feel and our journey to a better posture will be made easier.
- The more space we will be able to create between our spinal vertebra and joints, the less risk for adding on to intervertebral stress and compression which can attribute to disc degeneration, nerve and vascular damage. This translates to less back pain, less sciatica and prevention of both muscular overuse and atrophy.
- Regular massage can ultimately encourage a more balanced, elongated body.
Proper posture is usually compromised further as we age. Your skeletal alignment is one of the defining factors of an aged person….an image of a 60+ person usually includes some sort of hunching or slouching position. This aging silhouette IS NOT inevitable!! We can prevent unnatural painful spinal curvatures by working on our skeletal alignment. Its true massage alone cannot correct bad posture but along with conscious correction, appropriate exercise and stretching, massage can help!
The Savants have spoken!! Massage Therapy IS Anti-Aging!!
Massage Therapy benefits include:
- decreases stress related disease,
- increases overall feelings of wellness,
- improves the way we combat illness,
- improves health and nutrition to every tissue of the body,
- encourages toxin elimination,
- decreases pain and
- maintains youthful anatomical structure and function.
Are these not good enough reasons for you to incorporate to some extent massage therapy into your youth and health maintenance routine?
If you were looking for an excuse to get a massage, look no further…. you may have your ultimate defense right here! Conscious assured, massage therapy can prove to be a valuable tool to sustaining a long healthy life.
Cheers to being pampered, feeling good and most importantly leading a long healthy life!