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Health Benefits of Massage
Physical contact may lessen depression, lower blood pressure, and improve immunity.
By Camille Noe Pagan
O, The Oprah Magazine | February 16, 2011
Mark Rapaport, MD, used to wonder why his wife treated herself to so many massages.
"She'd get tons of them, whereas I'd had maybe 10 in my entire life," says the chairman
of the department of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Cedars-
Rapaport's curiosity led to a study, published last fall, that looked at 53 healthy adults who received one of two types of touch treatments. Blood tests revealed that those who had a Swedish massage with moderate pressure experienced decreases in stress hormones and increases in white blood cells, indicating a boost in the immune system. Meanwhile volunteers who had a "light touch" treatment showed higher levels of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes bonding. Based on the findings, Rapaport believes that massage might be effective in treating inflammatory and autoimmune conditions.
Tiffany Field, PhD, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, recommends getting a "regular dose" of some type of touch lasting at least a few minutes each day, although 10 to 15 minutes is optimal. This is true even for those who tend to guard their personal space. "Most touch aversion is to social touch; it's the unpredictability of it that bothers people," says Field.
Rapaport has gained such an appreciation for the power of touch, he's starting a new trial to investigate the effects of massage on anxiety and has made the topic a personal research focus. "We're finding biological changes associated with a single massage session," he says. "That's saying something."