I have recently discovered a new form of preventive health care: massage. I've had a few massages in the past and enjoyed them but always thought of massage as similar to getting my nails or hair done – a luxury that simply boosts how I look or, in the case of massage, how I feel.
Now, after talking to a massage therapist (hint, hint) that I am now going to regularly and with all the info that has been coming out about the mind-body connection and stress, I have learned that massage is not a luxury but a form of preventive health care that just so happens to also makes me feel great.
This new perspective has led me to team up with Lily Van Halen, LMT, the previously mentioned massage therapist, to spread the word that this is a valuable – and very affordable – part of health maintenance. This is the first part of a series where I will report, with the help of Lily, on my experiences with massage therapy and related ways to regularly engage in preventive health care.
Most people think of massage as a way to relax, but why would relaxation be essential? First it's important to clarify that the relaxation created by massage is very different from the idea that most people have of relaxation. You might think you can get relaxation from vacation-type activities like lying on the beach or meeting friends for happy hour or watching your favorite TV show. Those activities do remove you from stressful situations, like difficulties at work or driving in rush hour traffic, but the effects of everyday stresses can linger and accumulate and lead to chronic stress.
Personally I think one of the biggest causes of stress in the world today is the speed of transportation, especially in cars. When I am speeding along – and by speeding along, I mean travelling faster than a person can run – as far as my cells are concerned, I am hurtling through space, and that is an emergency! Sure, I know the car has brakes, but I am convinced that, physiologically, the body just automatically goes into crisis mode. And that's why passengers always try to help drivers – it's an automatic response that is created by every cell in our body going "Oh no -- we are going to die!!!"
Whether my theory is true or not, chronic stress is a very common condition of modern life, and the effects of chronic stress can make you vulnerable to illness. This is because stress really is a physiologic response, thus it can affect the whole body in complex ways due to the release of certain hormones that cause inflammation. This response can occur almost silently because it starts out mild, and it is easy to cope with mild discomfort or dysfunction, but that is also what allows the effects of stress to accumulate slowly over time. Symptoms that are mild at first get ignored, but build up over time. When they begin to have serious consequences, we still may not recognize the problem because we have adapted to it. Our ability to adapt is a two-edged sword: It enables us to deal with our environment as it changes, but at the same it is also changing us, and not necessarily for the good. Thus chronic stress can be like the hot water the frog doesn't jump out of. (Although this frog myth has been disproven, there is historical evidence that people don't always get out of hot water in time, so the frog story continues to serve as a useful metaphor).
Health care advice now frequently includes practicing relaxation techniques that people can do themselves, like yoga (see previous link for chronic stress). I recommend it to everyone but rarely take the time to do it myself. Now I have also become a proponent of massage, and this is one piece of my own advice I am taking at least once a month. In articles to follow that Lily and I collaborate on, we will provide more information about the following benefits of massage:
Decreased physical stress.
Decreased mental stress.
Decreased effects of aging on skin.
And all of the above together decrease inflammation, a significant source of aging and illness.
Last but not least: A positive cost/benefit ratio, that is, cost is low and benefit is high.
In the meantime consider this: People don't feel stressed because stress manifests as symptoms that seem to be caused by physical problems such as poor digestion or stiffness in the morning. Not always, but very often, those symptoms are actually the effects of stress that lead to illness.
If you have any specific questions about massage, you can email Lily at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Advanced Massage Works website,
GLOB Content Editor Lynn Dirk writes Table Scraps, an occasional column featuring compostable food for thought, scrap mettle for possible salvage, and crisp pieces of rendered thoughts.
Massage is Not a Luxury
An article by Lynn Dirk
Lynn Dirk, MAMC, a medical editor/writer with 30 years of experience, also writes occasional columns for the Gainesville Lunch Out Blog www.gatorglob.com