Whether you're on your feet all day or shackled to a desk, there's no better way to unwind than a relaxing foot, neck or shoulder rub. Now, scientists have discovered another reason to indulge in this simple pleasure: massage can lessen depression, lower blood pressure and even help to ward off colds. When was the last time you had one?
What are the benefits?
Massages don't just feel good, they do good, benefiting almost every part of the body. "The main benefits of massage are improved circulation and movement," says Matt Jeffers, therapist at at Melbourne Muscular Therapies.
Waste products, such as lactic and carbonic acids, build up in muscle through the course of everyday activities and "increasing blood flow increases the circulation of lymph throughout the body, which in turns cleans out these waste products," says Jeffers.
After an intense workout, massages have been found to reduce inflammation, producing a similar effect to painkillers. And that's not all. Even a quickie at the shopping centre or 15-minute chair massage is enough to slow down a racing heart rate, lower blood pressure, and cause the stress hormone cortisol to drop.
One study in the US found that a 45-minute Swedish massage lead to a spike in bacteria-fighting white blood cells, leading to an improved immune system overall.
"Stress can cause an increase in tension throughout the body, which can lead to anxiety and unclear thoughts," says Jeffers. "Massage helps to release stress and improve balance in the body/mind environment, and as a result, allows a more balanced perspective in stressful situations."
He adds that a light massage can also benefit the respiratory system, decreasing substances that trigger allergies and asthma. "There is a flow of fresh oxygen and nutrients flushed through the body, feeding and strengthening the immune system, making it more capable of repairing itself."
Do you suffer crippling headaches?
Massages are great stress relievers and fatigue fighters through their release of mood-boosting endorphins. "The intense, prolonged physical contact of massage boosts levels of serotonin, the body's happy hormone," says Jeffers. "Serotonin is also key to the body producing melatonin, the substance that moderates the sleep stage of our circadian cycle."
When you're sleeping well, your nervous system is less likely to be stressed and irritable, and as long as there's no underlying condition those headaches should also disappear.
How regularly should I get a massage?
A weekly massage may seem overindulgent, but it may be beneficial to your health. "If you have a specific condition that requires attention, a weekly treatment is definitely the way to go," says Jeffers. "For general health and well-being, a monthly massage is recommended to keep the body and mind in top shape." Just like exercise, massages do more for you the more regularly you keep up with them.
How much does it cost?
Before you dismiss regular massages as being out of the realms of your pay packet, remember that many types of massage are covered by health insurance. "Different health insurance companies categorise it differently but generally most Myotherapy, remedial massage and therapeutic massage sessions are covered. It's definitely worth checking with your provider first," says Jeffers. "If it's not covered, then you're generally looking at around $80-100 for an hour-long massage depending on where you go."
For a cheaper rate, also check out massage schools, which offer quality massages at an incredibly low price. "Student clinics are great if you're on a tight budget," says Jeffers. "The students should be fully supervised and although you shouldn't expect the best treatment you've ever had, you can think of it as helping out the next generation of therapists."
What are the different types?
Whatever type of massage you prefer, it's important that you get the most out of the experience. Jeffers says the pressure should be firm enough to make a temporary indentation in the skin. Some of the most common types are:
Sports massage not designed to be relaxing and can be quite intense. Contrary to the name however, sports massage isn't just for professional sports people or the very active, it can benefit anyone who exercises even if it's only regular walking.
Remedial massage provides a treatment of varying intensity relevant to the condition. Remedial massage therapists treat the dysfunction as well as the symptoms.
Relaxation also referred to as Swedish massage, this style is primarily used to reduce stress, improve circulation and movement and provides the deep relaxation that allows our minds and bodies to rejuvenate.
Aromatherapy along with the physical benefits of massage, as a holistic treatment, aromatherapy can have an effect on the entire body and mind. It is believed that scent can transform emotions and have a healing effect on bodies.
Shiatsu is a Japanese alternative that uses finger and palm pressure, as well as stretches. Shiatsu is believed to help people cope with issues such as stress, nausea, anxiety and depression by correcting any imbalances in the body.
Lymphatic is a gentle treatment which combines gentle pressure with soft pumping movements in the direction of the lymph nodes in the body. Stimulating the lymphatic system is said to aid in the removal and filtering of wastes, toxic build up and excess fluids from the body's cells.