We may make it look easy, but the pressures for modern-day women to “be on top of everything” can get overwhelming. With such hectic schedules it’s easy to forget that self-care is not a luxury, but an important activity that should be part of our weekly routine. It’s not that long ago that massages were seen as a slight indulgence. It’s a whole different story now. These day’s doctors consider it as important as following a good diet and exercising regularly. Here are our top 5 ways to improve your health naturally:
Particularly tough periods in our lives can leave us feeling disoriented, full of angst, and generally more prone to anxiety and depression. Of course, we are only human – so it’s normal to experience such emotions in the more challenging cycles of our life but sometimes these emotions can get a bit heavy and start affecting our lives in an adverse way.
In 2010 Dacher Keltner conducted a study to see whether humans can communicate compassion through touch, and aptly called it “The Science of Touch”. Through a variety of experiments, he discovered that it is entirely possible to convey trust, compassion, happiness and other positive emotions with just skin to skin contact.
The correlation between the results of this test, and past ones like it, prompted an interest in finding ways to incorporate touch into different forms of therapy. The pioneering outcome was undoubtedly “Touch Therapy” or “massage therapy”, an ancient practice that has been employed to promote physical and emotional health naturally since the earliest human civilisations.
Indeed, massage therapy provides benefits similar to those of psychotherapy, with the largest effects including a reduction of anxiety and depression (a study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience found that serotonin increased an average of 28% and dopamine levels increased 31% following massage therapy).
Massage techniques that target physical conditions can be just as effective for mental health treatment – so it’s not just about allowing your body to fully let go of tension, but also giving your mind a moment to recharge.
Picture yourself after a long day: you’re tired, your body aches, and all you want is some shut-eye. Except it never comes, and you continue to toss and turn and before you know it it’s a couple of hours until your alarm rings. We’ve all been there at some point in our lives but for some people, continuous sleep deprivation is a debilitating condition that affects their ability to cope in daily life and can lead to disease ( dis-ease).
Difficulty sleeping can be caused by a myriad of factors, from stress to bad sleeping arrangements to an inability to stop your mind from racing amongst others.
Sleep is necessary not just for day to day function, but overall health. Insufficient sleep is associated with several chronic diseases and conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression- it’s not just a doctor’s tale to say that 8 hours of sleep is the minimum requirement to “function”.
Although nutrition and exercise are undoubtedly crucial to a good night’s rest, medical experts such as those in the National Institutes of Health have advised that massage therapy can be an alternative to help you snooze. How? By increasing your levels of serotonin, which in turn increase your levels of melatonin (the hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycle).
And here’s the truly interesting bit: when we say “improving sleep” we don’t just mean falling asleep – in fact, and probably most importantly, we are referring to the ability to stay in deep sleep for longer (that’s the stage that allows your body to heal).
Regular massage not only helps to relax your muscles, but it also aids in allowing your body to fall asleep without the need for medication, and the massage options to achieve it are plentiful.
Massages are relaxing. We don’t need to go into that. What we do need to say is that stress increases the hormone cortisol, and massages have been proven to decrease it. Massages are also a great way to increase circulation during the months when you might not be moving around as much, and help you get a better night’s sleep; getting 2-3 massages a month can greatly increase your mood and help you unwind.
The type of massage can range from a simple 20-minute appointment to a full spa day. You have a variety of choices when it comes to intensity, methods (hot stone, essential oils, you chose!) and a great opportunity to shoot two birds with one stone and help alleviate other pains too (backache, anybody?)
BOOST IMMUNE SYSTEM
Being sick during Autumn is sort of normal. During winter? Expected. Spring? Pushing it. Summer? Just plain inconvenient.
It’s not just the cold months that can trigger the flu – year-round factors can bring down our natural defences and make our immune system weaker. We know that massages can help reduce stress and help you sleep better; two factors (among others) that help keep you healthy to combat those pesky seasonal ailments.
But one thing not many people know is that massage therapy goes beyond helping an immune system compromised when emotions are high: they also increase the activity level of the body’s white blood cells that work to defend the body from disease. The Touch Research Institute, at the University of Miami, conducted a study on women with breast cancer, and after 5 weeks of massage therapy being performed three times per week, 80% of these women showed improved immune function.
Likewise, a study by researcher Dr Mark Rapaport reported that massages reduced the levels of cytokines, which are molecules that play a role in inflammation.
It’s all very scientific, we know, but the proof is in the pudding: massage is no longer a luxury, but an important natural aid.
We already know the importance of a healthy gut, but here’s a quick crash course in case you missed the memo: stress, poor sleep and unhealthy habits can mess with the way your gut operates. And here’s the bit many overlook: the mind and gut are connected. Yup. No really, think about it: if you think of food, your stomach may grumble. If you get nervous you may feel like you have butterflies in your tummy.
During times of tension (mental and physical), your mind is on overload and stress can affect this brain-gut communication, triggering pain, bloating and other gut discomforts to be felt more easily. The key is to tackle the problem by the root and reduce stress. How? Well, see the above!
And if you wanna get specific, opt for abdominal massage. Yes, it sounds weird, but massage therapy can play a role in your gut health by allowing your body to enter the parasympathetic nervous system and abdominal massages specifically can help with digestion, boosting your metabolism and even reduce bloating.
Women are inherent givers. That’s not a stab at either gender, but an interesting observation made by a 2016 Wall Street Journal article. Women are said to be more altruistic and empathetic. Way back when the men were out hunting or working, women would gather together to cook, care for children and be there for one another. Nowadays with increased social mobility and busy lives, it’s not so simple, but there’s no denying that even if we can’t always be around each other, we always get a feeling to help out or do something nice for a friend.
Have you ever seen a friend of yours freak out and just have a really bad day? It’s normal. We’ve all been there, and it sucks. If you’ve experienced the benefits of massage, the perfect way to pass on the findings are not just to tell your stressed-out friend how great it is, but to let her experience it for herself and treat her to a massage if you can.
At the very least it’s an extremely caring intention, and at most a fantastic introduction to the benefits of massage and how it can help keep your body in optimal condition!