Let’s start off with the good news—massage is a great health aid that has been shown to reduce stress and its accompanying physical health threats. An Internet search on “effects of stress” supplied over 250,000 related articles, and most of the references in this issue are excerpted from the results. For instance:
Under severe stress, when muscles are over-worked, the body shows many weakening symptoms such as soreness, stiffness, and even muscle spasms. Heightened stress responses accumulate lactic acid in the muscle and waste air inside the body. It exhausts the body and de-motivates the mind to remain energized and active.
Why Massage is Rejuvenating:
- Massage improves circulation of blood and lymphatic fluids. Increased blood flow brings fresh oxygen to body tissues.
- Increased oxygen flow eliminates waste products from inside the body, and enhances recovery from diseases.
- Therapeutic massage boosts circulatory and immune systems to benefit blood pressure, circulation, muscle tone, digestion, and skin tone. It also improves the performance of the lungs.
- As muscle tone improves, so do the nerves that connect them, including the spinal cord and the brain.
- Therapeutic massage can promote general well being, enhance confidence, and self-assuredness.
- Massage is an excellent relaxant that also increases health and well being. (*1)
How Does Stress Affect Health?
The human body is designed to experience stress and react to it. Stress can be positive, keeping us alert and ready to avoid danger. Stress becomes negative when a person faces continuous challenges without relief or relaxation between challenges. As a result, the person becomes overworked, and stress-related tension builds.
Stress that continues without relief can lead to a condition called distress—a negative stress reaction. Distress can disturb the body’s internal balance or equilibrium—leading to physical symptoms including headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, and problems sleeping. Research suggests that stress also can bring on or worsen certain symptoms or diseases.
Stress also becomes harmful when people use alcohol, tobacco, or drugs to try to relieve their stress. Unfortunately, instead of relieving the stress and returning the body to a relaxed state, these substances tend to keep the body in a stressed state and cause more problems. Consider the following facts:
- Forty-three percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress.
- Seventy-five to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
- Stress is linked to six of the leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide. (*2)
The University of Washington, Department of Orthopedics, lists three components of a successful stress management program: learn how to reduce stress; learn how to accept what you cannot change; and learn how to overcome the harmful effects of stress.
- Identify the causes of stress in your life.
- Share your thoughts and feelings.
- Simplify your life as much as possible.
- Manage your time & conserve your energy.
- Set short-term and life goals for yourself.
- Do not turn to drugs and alcohol.
- Become as mentally and physically fit as possible.
- Develop a sense of humor and have some fun.
- Get help to cope with hard-to-solve problems. (*3)
How Stress Makes Us Old
It’s long been suspected that a difficult life can make people look old before their time. New research shows that stress actually does age us prematurely—right down to our DNA. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, studied the DNA of 39 women who had spent years caring for their chronically ill children. They specifically examined the women’s telomeres, which are pieces of DNA that cap the ends of chromosomes and play a critical role in cell division. Each time a cell divides, the telomeres shorten; they therefore can serve as a marker of a cell’s biological age. The women with chronically ill children, the study found, had shorter telomeres than a group of women with healthy kids. The more stressed the woman, the greater the wear on her DNA. The difference was so dramatic that the researchers estimated that the cells of the highly stressed moms had undergone the equivalent of 10 years of additional aging compared to the low-stress group. “Older” cells, in turn, can be vulnerable to a host of diseases. “If we feel stress, it needs to be taken seriously,” Elissa Epel tells New Scientist. “It may be embodied at the cellular level.” —The Week, Dec. 17, 2004
Do you know someone who needs a little break? Give them a “mini-vacation” with a massage gift certificate—a ticket to a special destination!
“We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden.”
—Johann von Goethe