Massage Therapy and Heart Health

Massage Therapy and Heart Health

Massage can reduce stress, increase production of endorphins, improve blood circulation, reduce blood pressure, and slow heart rate—all benefits that can contribute to heart health.

Several recent studies point to benefits of massage therapy that help heal the heart.

In 2008, researchers studied volunteers who had a massage for 45 to 60 minutes. Average blood pressure fell by 10 mg Hg and heart rate by 10 beats per minute after one treatment. That’s about as much as you might get from prescribing a new blood pressure medication for life!

Earlier this year, 50 people with mildly elevated blood pressure received a 15-minute massage, three times a week for 10 sessions, while a similar group just relaxed for the same amount of time. Blood pressure fell at the end of the sessions and remained lower for several days—but only in the massage group.

Another study this year examined 8 women with high blood pressure who’d had an hourlong massage each week for four weeks. At the end of that period, their blood pressure fell by 12 mm Hg systolic (top number) and measurements in the blood reflecting inflammation (specifically VCAM-1 if you like science) fell significantly. A control group just rested for the same amount of time and had smaller improvements in the same measurements. The drop in markers of inflammation is intriguing and suggests massage therapy may have a body-wide health effect.

Massage therapy on a regular basis can reduce occurrence of cardiac arrhythmias, which cause the heart to pump less efficiently, and can decrease both diastolic and systolic blood pressure. Massage can ease heart strain by improving circulation toward the heart while relaxing contracted muscles.
Massage improves circulation of oxygen and essential nutrients in the body by strengthening circulation. The massage practitioner’s manipulation of skin, tendons and muscles, the body’s soft tissues, can have a calming effect on nerves and can reduce stress. Postsurgical massage can aid in reducing pain and muscle spasms.
Massage heart health benefits:
• Reduces hypertension
• Manages depression and insomnia
• Enhances relaxation
• Treats anxiety
Regardless of age, massage therapy performed by a skilled and qualified therapist can reduce stress, cause relaxation and enhance feelings of well being. A good massage can stimulate the nerve endings in skin, release endorphins (the feel good hormones) and inhibit the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Blood will circulate more efficiently, blood pressure will drop and heart rates will slow down.
A regular massage regimen can reduce the risks associated with stress, such as cardiac arrhythmias (the heart pumps less effectively, so less blood reaches the brain and other vital organs). A number of long-term studies have shown that a consistent massage program can decrease diastolic and systolic blood pressure. And maintaining a healthy blood pressure can contribute to lowering the odds of one having a heart attack.
Massage therapy releases contracted muscles and pushes venous blood towards the heart, easing the strain on the heart.Some suggest that massage therapy may move a patient’s nervous system from the sympathetic toward the parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system helps mobilize the body for action (the fight-or-flight response), which ups the heart and breathing rate and causes blood vessels to narrow. On the other hand, the parasympathetic nervous system creates a resting response characterized by a reduced heart and breathing rate and dilated blood vessels.
An increasing number of research studies reveal that massage reduces heart rate, lowers blood pressure and increases blood circulation.For those who do not get enough physical exercise, a monthly massage is highly recommended. Keep in mind that the effects of regular massage are cumulative.
If the goal is one of health maintenance, a massage once or twice a week will assist you in reaching this goal.  Some of the immediate physical benefits of massage are regulation of the automatic nervous system activity and stimulation of the lymphatic and hormonal systems, which can contribute to heart health.
Before attempting massage therapy, first consult a primary care physician. If the doctor advises that massage may help, find a licensed massage therapist who is nationally certified through the Ontario Massage Therapy Association.

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