Regular massage therapy has long-term benefits
The benefits of massage are linked to the same healthy habits practiced by the world’s longest living populations
Written By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by Simply Massage
While massage has typically been considered an alternative medicine, doctors are increasingly prescribing it as part of standard treatment for many different medical conditions.
That’s according to the Mayo Clinic, which cites the effectiveness of massage as a treatment for reducing stress, pain and muscle tension. The reduction of stress is an essential element of longevity based on the research of Blue Zones, areas in the world whose residents have the longest life expectancies. In these regions around the world, people share nine common lifestyle habits: Physical activity, a sense of belonging, eat a mostly plant-based diet, never overeat, put family first, enjoy a glass of wine or two per day, have purpose in life, have faith, unwind from stress and spend time with others who practice similar habits.
“We have so much stress worked up in our bodies — you can’t stay on top of it by just getting a massage every once in a while,” said Karen Taylor, owner of Simply Massage, with locations in Vail, Avon, Breckenridge and Glenwood Springs. “Continually working on the body gives it more of a chance to stay in shape.”
Here are some of the benefits that regular massages can have on overall health, wellness and longevity.
Focus and mental clarity
Research published in the International Journal of Neuroscience shows that massage therapy increases serotonin and dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers, while serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps relay messages from one area of the brain to another — influencing mood, sexual desire and function, appetite, sleep, memory and learning. Massage therapy also decreases the stress hormone cortisol.
“Massages are excellent for clearing the mind and turning off that fight or flight response,” said Katherine Ford, manager at Simply Massage in Avon. “It helps cleanse those emotions.”
Recent studies have shown that massage stimulates activity in the left side of the brain, which is the side that is most active when a person is pleased, happy, or excited. The right side of the brain, in contrast, is often activated when an individual is sad, stressed, or depressed. When feeling happy and motivated, individuals are more capable of producing their best work, as opposed to when they are sad and discouraged.
Tight neck and shoulder muscles often limit the circulation to the brain, which consequently does not support memory or concentration. Also, when massage relaxes tense muscles, it eases stress, which also benefits thinking and efficient work. Positive emotions typically are related to better thinking and memory, whereas negative emotions are associated with pessimistic thinking and less concentration.
Stress relief and relaxation
Massage can stimulate activity in the left side of the brain, which is associated with pleasure, happiness and excitement. For occupational stress — the main cause of stress for most Americans — massage therapy has been proven to reduce stress and promote mental health, according to research published by the National Institutes of Health.
Taylor said many clients come in as often as two or three times a week as part of their wellness routine. She finds that once a week works best for her.
“It varies for every person,” she said, adding that once a month isn’t really enough anyone seeking long-term benefits from massage.
Muscle tension relief
In mountain communities with such active residents and visitors, our muscles and joints often take a beating. Ford said it’s important to flush the joints and soft tissue to improve endurance, stability and competitiveness. The benefits of releasing this tension can positively affect the body and also the mind.
“We do hold trauma in our muscles and joints,” she said. “A lot of muscles and aches can be linked to emotional trauma.”
Without regular massages, Taylor said the knots and trigger points in the body might get worked out during one massage, but they’ll continue to come back.
Massage strokes and pressure release chemicals into the bloodstream that are then processed through the kidneys, which Ford said makes detoxification one of the top benefits of massage therapy.
She likes to incorporate breathing exercises into her massages as a way to increase oxygenation in the body, which also helps with focus and mental clarity, she said.
“Massage also increases circulation. As you’re pressing on these muscles, as soon as you release, they swell back up with blood to create a natural flushing process,” Ford said. “That flushing process is so beneficial — it cleanses the blood.”