A massage right about now sounds heavenly, right? Who couldn’t stand a little loosening up of those tight shoulders and an hour of zenning out to truly unplug? But if hitting the spa also seems too pricy—after all, it’s just a “treat yo’self” thing, right?—it’s time to change your perspective.
Not only can a good massage enhance physical mobility, relieve pain, and lower the bloodstream’s concentration of stress hormones, getting a rubdown has also been shown to boost the brain’s production of feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, bolster immunity, and improve sleep. Which is why some say massage shouldn’t be considered just an indulgence—rather, it’s part of a healthy lifestyle, just like going for a run or eating an energy-boosting snack.
There are many other misconception out there too. Learn the latest facts so you can reap the many rewards of massage.
1. Massage is for so much more than just relaxation.
Yes, bringing your body and mind to a state of greater calm is a massage therapist’s objective. It’s what licensed massage therapist Gina Flores, founder of Essential Body Wisdom, calls “lowering the reticular alarm system." In other words, it calms the sympathetic nervous system, which is often high-strung due to crazy-busy schedules and other life stressors. By using touch to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which brings the body back into a mode of resting and digesting, a massage therapist “helps the neurological system turn down its volume, diminish pain, and transition to a recovery state in which it can naturally heal itself,” Flores says.
But that’s not the only aim of a well-rounded rub-down. In addition to chilling you out, a proper massage is like spring cleaning for your muscles, says Wil Lewis, Exhale Spa’s national massage trainer. “When muscles are tired, they grab on to other muscles around them for support. Over the long term, they glue together, hardening and losing their ability to function,” he explains. A massage therapist works to knead out knots and isolate muscles from one another, which brings back range of motion—you know, that “wow my shoulders feel so much freer” feeling that comes once you pull yourself off the massage table an hour later.
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