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Archive for February, 2019

The community of bacteria or “microbiome” in a woman’s cervix might be a harbinger of her risk for cervical cancer, a new study suggests.

For the study, researchers used genetic analysis to identify bacteria present in samples from 144 Tanzanian women who had cervical cancer screenings between March 2015 and February 2016.

Of the women in the study, 126 had tested positive for human papillomavirus (HPV), 41 had tested positive for HIV, and 50 had been diagnosed with high-grade lesions likely to become cancerous.

Previous research has shown that HPV is responsible for 99 percent of cervical cancers, and that HIV infection is strongly associated with an increased risk of HPV infection.

Women with the high-grade pre-cancerous cervical lesions had a more abundant and diverse mix of bacteria in their cervical microbiomes than women who had no lesions or less serious lesions, according to the study published recently in the journal mBio.

“There are certain families of bacteria that appear to be associated with the higher grades of pre-cancerous lesions,” said lead study author Peter Angeletti. He is an associate professor at the Nebraska Center for Virology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“What we know so far is that there is a relationship between the virus commonly associated with cervical cancer and the microbiome,” he added in a university news release.

Mycoplasma bacteria, in particular, may help promote the growth of HPV-related cervical lesions, according to the researchers.

Mycoplasma is a group of bacteria that can cause pneumonia, pelvic inflammatory disease and urinary tract infections. Some forms of the bacteria can be sexually transmitted, according to background information in the news release.

Further research is needed, but the study findings suggest that it may be possible to use the cervical microbiome for cancer screening and diagnosis, or perhaps cancer could be treated or prevented with probiotics or antibiotics, the authors noted.

Source: https://consumer.healthday.com/cancer-information-5/cervical-cancer-news-95/cervical-microbiome-could-help-predict-cancer-risk-742950.html

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Feeling trapped behind a desk, a counter or on the factory floor does no favors for the mind.

Now, research helps confirm that women with jobs that demand long hours may be more prone to depression.

Researchers found that compared with women who worked a standard 40-hour week, those who were on the clock 55 hours or more typically reported more depression symptoms.

The same was true of women and men who usually worked weekends as well as weekdays.

The findings, based on thousands of British adults, do not prove that long work hours were the culprit.

“Workers are complicated creatures,” said lead researcher Gillian Weston, of University College London. “And it’s not possible to [account for] every potential influence when looking for associations in an observational study.”

Still, she said, her team was able to factor out a number of factors that affect depression risk — such as income and education, and whether people were married or had children.

And still, long work weeks remained linked to a higher risk of depression symptoms.

The findings have implications in a world where people are increasingly expected to work outside the traditional 9-to-5 window, according to Weston’s team.

Theresa Nguyen is a licensed clinical social worker and vice president of policy and programs for the nonprofit Mental Health America.

She said that in recent years technology has sharply reduced workers’ “safe spaces” of personal time.

“Our smartphones have created an expectation that you’ll always be available. You’ll answer emails even when you’re on vacation,” said Nguyen, who was not involved in the study.

For women — who have always borne the stress of balancing work and family life — the added time demands can be especially daunting.

“There’s the pressure that society puts on us, and that we put on ourselves,” Nguyen said. “As women, we worry about being at work and away from family.”

In most countries, Weston said, women typically work less than men do, and those who are married with children often cut down their work hours.

So women who work long hours are essentially “bucking” the societal trend, Weston said — and that might create more conflicts.

Those women might “feel the strain of greater time pressures and responsibilities due to a double ‘burden’ of paid and unpaid work,” Weston said. They may also have to deal with less-than-supportive attitudes from the people around them, she added.

“That may exacerbate any feelings of conflict or distress,” Weston said.

The findings, published online Feb. 25 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, are based on more than 23,000 employed U.K. adults who took part in a national health survey.

They answered a standard questionnaire on depressive symptoms, which asked about issues such as self-confidence and self-worth, enjoyment of daily activities, sleep loss over “worries,” and the ability to concentrate and deal with life’s problems.

A score of 12 or higher may signal cases of depression, according to Weston. On average, the study found, women who worked 55 hours or more per week scored 11.8, versus 11 among women who worked a standard 35- to 40-hour week.

There was no difference between men who worked long or standard workweeks. But men who worked weekends tended to report more symptoms, versus those who worked only weekdays, once job satisfaction was taken into account.

In general, the study found, people with extra-long work weeks had high household incomes and the most freedom on the job.

Increasingly, Nguyen said, employers are letting people work “remotely” — which has clear upsides, but also downsides. There’s freedom, but there’s also isolation, she noted.

Plus, Nguyen said, “your work and your home aren’t separate anymore.” And people can find themselves working at all hours, weekends included.

So it’s important, Nguyen said, to set boundaries: Decide that you’re not going to answer emails after a certain hour, or on weekends, for example.

Nguyen also recommended dedicating time to things that recharge you, whether it’s taking a walk every afternoon or just getting some rest.

Some people, she said, may need to talk with their manager about logging fewer hours or making other adjustments at work.

In a recent survey of U.S. workers, Mental Health America found that certain workplace qualities boosted people’s job satisfaction — including flexible work arrangements and feeling supported and recognized by their employer.

Workers who are more satisfied and less stressed, Nguyen noted, will also be more productive — which serves everyone better.

More information

The RAND Corporation has more on workplace wellness.

SOURCES: Gillian Weston, Ph.D. student, research department, epidemiology and public health, University College London, U.K.; Theresa Nguyen, L.C.S.W., vice president, policy and programs, Mental Health America, Alexandria, Va.; Feb. 25, 2019, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, online

Source: https://consumer.healthday.com/public-health-information-30/occupational-health-news-507/long-work-weeks-may-be-depressing-especially-for-women-743137.html

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Image by Zheng Long / Stocksy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Talk to most functional medicine providers, and the majority will tell you that health begins in the gut. Well, I disagree. Health begins in the environment. Allow me to explain.

In the early 1990s, researcher Dr. Bruce Lipton discovered that he could take a blank human cell and turn it into any type of cell he wanted: heart, liver, muscle, you name it. He found that there was one factor that determined the fate of these undifferentiated cells: their environment. Dr. Lipton discovered that by changing the type of media (cellular food) he grew the cells in, he could influence how they developed. This was a HUGE discovery.

What Dr. Lipton uncovered is what we refer to now as epigenetics, which is the study of how environmental factors influence the expression of genes. The implications of this discovery are profound.

For decades, doctors have told their patients that their medical conditions were a result of genetics and that there was nothing they could do except take medication. Well, we now know that only a small percentage of medical conditions are entirely genetic (roughly 5 percent, according to Dr. Lipton), while the rest are controlled by environmental factors.

When we refer to environment in this context, it means anything that can influence the expression of genes, including air, food, water, EMF (electromagnetic fields), light, heavy metals, stress, sleep, pesticides, medications, and heat and cold exposure.

When working with my clients, these are the first things we focus on—not the gut—because these factors are what contribute to the development of disease, and it doesn’t matter how clean your diet is or the quality of your supplements if your environment is breaking you down:

1. Make sure you’re breathing clean air.

The average human takes about 16 breaths per minute, which is roughly 23,000 breaths a day. The main purpose of breathing for humans is to supply the body with oxygen and to rid the body of carbon dioxide. Simple enough, right? Everyone is aware that certain chemicals in high enough concentrations can be harmful. (For instance, you probably know that at high enough concentrations carbon monoxide is deadly.) But do you ever stop to think about the chemicals you inhale if you live in the city or close to a highway? How about the chemicals in air fresheners or those found on most furniture and mattresses?

With few exceptions, every chemical we inhale makes its way into our bloodstreams and must be bio-transformed and detoxified. This processing requires a significant amount of energy, nutrients, and antioxidants. If you are struggling with a health condition, you need all the nutrients and antioxidants you can get and don’t want to be wasting them detoxifying your body because you live in a toxin-filled environment.

To improve your air quality and support your health, try replacing air fresheners, cleaning products, hygiene products, carpets, and mattresses with green alternatives. The Environmental Working Group has a comprehensive list of recommendations for all categories. Next, allow your house to breathe. Open the windows for a least 15 minutes a day to allow the air in your house to circulate. And finally, purchase a high-quality HEPA filter and run it for a few hours before bed, but not in the bedroom while you are sleeping, as it can disrupt restful sleep.

 2. Drink plenty of well-filtered water.

I think we all know how important water is or, at the very least, we hear about it often enough. It seems like every health expert is telling us to drink more water to detoxify, lose weight, or slow down the aging process.

But is what they say true, and do you really need to drink half your weight in ounces of water a day? We could go on for pages about this, but let’s start with the facts. Scientific data suggests the following recommendations for water consumption:

Men: 3.1 Liters or 100 ounces daily

Women: 2.8 Liters or 90 ounces daily

You should keep in mind, however, that a lot of water is found in a whole-foods diet. So if you are avoiding processed foods, you should be aiming for at least 64 ounces of water a day. And when I say water, I mean pure water. Not Gatorade, soda, fruit juices, or even coffee or tea.

I also recommend getting a high-quality water filter since municipal water providers don’t always do a great job of regulating water purity; for my clients, I suggest a reverse-osmosis (RO) water filter with a remineralizer. This is because RO filtration removes minerals as well as contaminants; you will want to make sure you are adding minerals back in. The best way to stay hydrated throughout the day is to start your day off on the right foot. Upon waking, drink at least 16 ounces of water with a pinch of sea salt for minerals. You can also add a squeeze of lemon for taste.

Image by Zheng Long / Stocksy

3. Make sure your light exposure supports your body’s natural rhythm.

There is little in this world that we take for granted more than light. Light from the sun is essential to the survival of all species on our planet.

For us humans, light not only keeps us warm but it directs ourcircadian rhythm, also known as our internal clock). And until recently in human history, it has been the sun that dictates when we rise in the morning and when we go to sleep at night. Not only does light affect our periods of wakefulness, it also strongly influences the production of hormones like melatonin and cortisol that regulate our body.

When we do not get adequate sun exposure throughout the day (or are exposed to artificial light at night), it can throw off our circadian rhythm. When this happens, we are at risk for a whole host of issuesincluding insomnia, fatigue, depression, anxiety, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and more.

This is why it is imperative that we address our light exposure throughout the day. In the morning, within the first hour of waking up, you should go outside for 15 minutes to get adequate sun exposure. The light from the sun at this time of day is more on the blue end of the spectrum, which will help wake you up and set your circadian rhythm for the day.

In the afternoon, you should get at least 15 to 20 minutes of time outside. In the warmer months, I recommend exposing as much skin as possible for maximal vitamin D production but not exposing yourself so long that you burn.

In the evening, you should have no blue or green light exposure two to three hours before bed. This means no TV, cellphones, or computers. If you are going to use any of these devices at all, then you should be wearing blue-light-blocking glasses.

 4. Be aware and mindful of sound exposure throughout the day.

Along with light, sound is another under appreciated factor that affects our health. In fact, everyone has experienced the transformative power of sound when they listen to a certain song that immediately transports them back to a certain time period or event. We utilize music for motivation at the gym, as well as chants on the sports field. Certain tones are used in spas because they are known to be relaxing.

Depending on the source, sound can be either therapeutic or harmful. The World Health Organization has found that as ambient noise increases above 40 decibels, so too does the incidence of high blood pressure, heart attacks, cognitive impairment, sleep disturbances, and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Those who live in a city or by trains and airports are more likely to be exposed to sounds consistently above 40 decibels and are at a greater risk of developing these adverse health outcomes.

My recommendations for sound start with getting outside in nature often. Recent research indicates that spending time in nature is associated with a decreased risk in many health ailments, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and asthma. It is believed that at least part of this benefit is due to the sounds and/or lack of sounds experienced in nature. You should aim to get outside in nature daily, even if it’s just to a local park.

I also recommend finding time for 20 minutes of silence every single day. You can do this at any time of day and couple it with a silent meditation. Making your bedroom a quiet place is another important factor in the sounds we experience every day. Your bedroom is for sleep and sex—that’s it! Not TV or cellphone use. I even advise against white noise machines, which have high decibel levels. Instead, I recommend the Pzizz app which produces isochronic tones that can promote deep sleep.

By following these tips and suggestions, you can create an environment that fosters healing, healthy hormone production, better sleep, and even reduces anxiety. Then, all your other healthy rituals—like exercising, eating well, and healing your gut—will go a whole lot further.

Source: https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/environmental-factors-affecting-your-health

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These sciatic nerve stretches are so simple, you can do them in bed.

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When sciatica flares up—you know, the searing pain, tingling, or numbness that shoots from your low back to one of your legs—you’ll do just about anything to find relief. That’s why these simple stretches are so handy: They can help take pressure off your sciatic nerve without having to even get out of bed. The routines below, developed by Jennifer Howe, MPT, CMPT, a teaching associate for the University of Washington’s physical therapy department, target one of the three main causes of sciatica: herniated disc (a bulge in the cushioning between the bones in your spinal column), bone degeneration (irregularities in your vertebrae), or tight hip muscles.

If you’re unsure what’s triggering your sciatica, try all three routines and note which one helps the most. For the best results, do your stretches daily before you get out of bed in the morning, or at night before you fall asleep. If you’d prefer, you can also do these stretches on the floor.


Cause of Sciatic Pain: Herniated disc

The following two stretches help create distance between the bulging discs in the spine, taking pressure off the sciatic nerve.

Sciatica Stretch: Press up

Woman practicing yoga in baby cobra pose
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Start on your stomach with your elbows positioned directly under your shoulders and your forearms flat on the bed, parallel to one another. Lift your chest and extend through the spine from your tailbone to the top of your neck; allow your back to arch. Hold for 30 seconds for 1 repetition, breathing deeply. If the pain in your legs lessens, do 2 more reps and then move on to the next stretch in this sequence. If you don’t feel relief, skip the next move and try the routine for sciatica related to bone degeneration.

Sciatica Stretch: Press up Extension

Young Woman Doing Yoga Cobra Pose
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Lie face down with your hands flat, next to your shoulders. Press your palms into the bed to lift your upper body up, keeping hips and pelvis rooted to the bed. Extend through the spine from the tailbone to the neck, allowing your back to arch. Stop lifting your chest if you feel any pressure in your lower back. Hold for 10 seconds, then slowly lower back to the start position for one rep. Do 10 reps for 1 set; do 3 sets total.


Cause of Sciatic Pain: Bone Degeneration

These moves help create space between your vertebrae so they’re less likely to pinch your sciatic nerve.

Sciatica Stretch: Knees to Chest

Young woman in apanasana yoga pose
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Lie on your back and slowly hug your knees to your chest, allowing your low back to round. Hold for 30 seconds for 1 rep. If this stretch lessens the pain in your legs, do 3 reps and then move on to the next stretch. If not, try the next routine for tight hip muscles.

Sciatica Stretch: Posterior Pelvic Tilt

Young Female Athlete Performs Abs Crunches in City Park
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Lie face up on the bed with your knees bent and feet flat. Draw abdominals in to flatten lower back into the bed. Hold for 5 seconds, then return to start position for 1 repetition. Do 10 reps.


Cause of Sciatic Pain: Tight Hip Muscles

These stretches can loosen muscles in the hips that may be pressing on the sciatic nerve.

Sciatica Stretch: Knee to Opposite Shoulder

Young woman in Knees to Chest, Apanasana pose, studio, closeup
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Lie on your back with legs extended, feet flexed. Lift your right leg and clasp your hands behind the knee. Gently pull your right knee across your body and toward your left shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds for 1 rep. Do 3 reps. Switch legs and repeat.

Sciatica Stretch: Figure 4

Reclining pigeon pose
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Lie on your back with bent knees, feet flat on bed. Cross your right ankle over your left knee (in the shape of a “4”). Grasp your hands behind your left knee and gently pull your legs toward chest as you press right knee away from your chest. Hold for 30 seconds for 1 rep. Do 3 reps. Switch legs and repeat.

Source: https://www.prevention.com/fitness/a20465618/sciatica-stretches-you-can-do-in-bed/

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“Without music, life would be a mistake”, said Nietzsche, and he wasn’t entirely wrong because we have a natural instinct that leads us to follow the rhythm of the music. In fact, most children move and clap their hands when they hear a song they like. It is a spontaneous response related to our need to communicate and express our emotions through the movement and the body.

There is no doubt that music is a universal language and everyone, except the people who suffer from amusia, is able to appreciate and enjoy it. In fact, it was discovered that people of different cultures react emotionally in the same way when listening to different types of music. So, it is no coincidence that anthropological studies indicate that groups who were more likely to survive were those who had developed a particular dance and were able to share their feelings dancing.

Of course, music and dance not only serve as social glue, but are also very useful for our physical and mental health. Recent studies revealed that one of the keys to happiness and satisfaction is right on the dance floor.

Steps that heal, movements that make us happy

In 2013, psychologists at the University of Örebro realized an experiment with a group of teenagers who suffered from anxiety, depression and stress, in addition to presenting psychosomatic symptoms such as neck and back pain. Half of these were asked to attend two dance classes a week, while the rest continued with their daily routine.

After two years, those who continued to attend the dance classes (where emphasis was on the pleasure of the movement rather than performance), not only showed a significant improvement in psychosomatic symptoms, but also reported to feel happier.

In another study conducted at the University of Derby, the psychologists worked with people who were suffering from depression. These people received “salsa” lessons for a period of nine weeks. The improvements began to be appreciated after four weeks and, after finishing the course, the participants said they had fewer negative thoughts, better concentration and a greater sense of peace and tranquility.

But the truth is that dance is not only an excellent therapeutic resource. A study at Deakin University revealed that dance has a very positive effect on our daily lives. These Australian researchers interviewed 1,000 people and found that often those who were dancing not only reported feeling happier, but also more satisfied with their lives, especially in relationships, health, and the goals achieved over the years.

Interestingly, also the psychologists at the University of New York discovered a similar effect in children. These researchers worked with 120 children, aged 2 to 5 years old, who were exposed to different types of sound stimuli, some were rhythmic and imitated the rhythm of the music, others were completely arrhythmic. They could appreciate that children who were moving following the rhythmic movements showed more positive emotions and felt happier. Therefore, these researchers concluded that not only we have a tendency to move to the beat of the music, but also that dancing improves our mood.

Why dancing makes us happy?

When we dance our brain releases endorphins, neurotransmitters that create a feeling of comfort, relaxation, fun and power. Music and dance do not only activate the sensory and motor circuits of our brain, but also the pleasure centers.

Indeed, neuroscientists at Columbia University say that when we move in tune with the rhythm, the positive effects of music are amplified. Therefore, a little secret to make the most of the music is to synchronize our movements with the beat, so we will be doubling the pleasure.

However, the magic of dancing can not simply be reduced to brain chemistry. Dancing is also a social activity that allows us connect with the others, share experiences and meet new people, which has a very positive effect on our mental health.

What’s more, as we move, our muscles relax to the music, which allows us to free ourselves of the tension built up during the day, especially the one accumulated in the deepest part of the musculature.

Sources:
Duberg, A. et. Al. (2013) Influencing Self-rated Health Among Adolescent Girls With Dance Intervention A Randomized Controlled Trial. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med.; 167(1): 27-31.
Zentner, M. & Eerola, T. (2010) Rhythmic engagement with music in infancy. PNAS; 107(13): 5768-5773.
Birks, M. et. Al. (2007) The benefits of salsa classes for people with depression. Nursing Times; 103(10): 32-33.
Lesté, A. & Rust, J. (1984) Effects of dance on anxiety. Percept Mot Skills; 58(3): 767-772.

Source: https://psychology-spot.com/dancing-makes-me-happy/

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A new study conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia found that postpartum anxiety is more common than previously thought. In fact, it’s almost three times as common as postpartum depression. According to CBC News, the research team found that about 17% of new moms suffer from postpartum anxiety, compared to about 5% who suffer from postpartum depression.

Pretty surprising, huh? Part of the reason why this research is so groundbreaking is that most of us are familiar with the phenomenon of postpartum depression, but postpartum anxiety is seen as more of an anomaly, which means that mothers may not seek help for it.

As a lifelong anxiety sufferer myself — and one whose anxiety was intensified after my first baby was born — I found this research intriguing, and incredibly important. If these numbers are accurate, it’s imperative that we get the word out there so that mothers who are suffering the ugly beast of postpartum anxiety will be diagnosed and treated.

As lead researcher Dr. Nicole Fairbrother explains in an interview with On the Coast, “Pregnant women and postpartum women who are suffering from an anxiety disorder may not be getting the screening or assessment or treatment that they need because we aren’t thinking to ask about these kinds of concerns because we’re so focused on depression.”

This was certainly the case for me. After my first son was born, I remember having obsessive thoughts that spun through my mind. I worried about my baby’s safety. I worried about mine. I imagined what would happened if I died. I was breastfeeding him and I was terrified about how he would eat if something happened to me. I was scared to sleep because I had to make sure he was breathing at all times. It took a very long time before I felt comfortable even leaving the room he was in.

My symptoms were only this intense for the first few weeks, and then seemed to pass. Still, some of the extreme thoughts and worries I had starting in those first weeks did not go away. But I didn’t think to seek treatment because I had only really heard of postpartum depression, and I thought, Well, I must be fine because I’m not depressed.

In its coverage, CBC News described the case of a mother that Dr. Fairbrother was working with in her clinical practice. The mother, who previously had thoughts of harming her baby, had been in treatment for postpartum depression for two years. As CBC News reports, once this mom was treated for postpartum anxiety, results were evident within eight weeks.

This case struck a nerve for me. When my son was 2 years old, my anxiety returned; but this time with a terror I had never experienced before. I had just experienced a miscarriage, and an emergency hospitalization of my son (it was for something minor, but it rattled my nerves tremendously). All of the anxiety I’d had relating to motherhood over the past two years had reached a crescendo, and my thoughts and feelings were out of control.

I was experiencing daily panic attacks, nausea, and racing thoughts. I finally began to seek treatment. Thankfully, a few months of therapy did the trick for me. But I can’t help but wonder if I could have avoided such an awful few months had I only known to seek treatments for my motherhood-related anxiety in those early postpartum months.

Dr. Fairbrother calls for better screening postpartum anxiety in new mothers. As she puts it, “If we’re not asking about anxiety, we may not know.”

I believe that this is absolutely the case. I hope that more medical providers and postpartum caregivers learn to look for signs of postpartum anxiety in new mothers. I’m beyond grateful that the stigma of PPD is slowly being removed and that more mothers are seeking treatment for it, but clearly the same thing needs to happen with postpartum anxiety.

Mothers who are suffering with postpartum anxiety should know that it is common and treatable. They need to know that they have every right to feel better — and most of all, that they are not alone.

Source: https://www.babble.com/parenting/postpartum-anxiety-more-common-than-ppd/

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Massage therapy may help boost focus, relieve anxiety, and even improve sleep.

When it comes to relaxation, there are a few things we all associate with that it: spa days, cozying up by the fire, staying in bed until 2 p.m. and, of course, getting a massage. And although massage is great for helping you relax, it has more therapeutic benefits, too.

The term “massage” itself actually encompasses a wide array of different types of massage, ranging from Swedish massage (the most common type), to massages that have a more targeted and specific purpose, like a sports massage, which is aimed at helping athletes recover.

No matter the type, the benefits of massage really come down to one thing: pressure. “The skin is moved during a moderate pressure massage, which results in a calming and slowing of the nervous system,” says Tiffany Field, PhD, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine. And that slowing of the nervous system leads to other physiological effects, too, like a decrease in heart rate, lowered blood pressure, and changes in EEG patterns (electrical activity in your brain), says Field.

Plus, in order to see those effects, it takes less time than you might think. “For research, we’re able to document positive effects for massages that are only 20 minutes long,” says Mark Hyman Rapaport, MD, chief of psychiatric services at Emory Healthcare, who has led multiple studies focused on the effects of massage. That means when you go to get a massage (most of which are usually advertised for being around 50 minutes long, says Dr. Rapaport), you’re under pressure for more than enough time to see optimal benefits.

And if you can’t afford to head to the spa down the street? “You do not need to go to a massage therapist all the time,” says Field. “You can give yourself a massage.” Since we’re able to reach most areas on our body, you can do a 20-minute self-massage by using a massage brush in the shower or even rubbing a tennis ball against your limbs, she explains.

So if you’re thinking about booking a time or investing in a self-massager, here are six of the therapy’s biggest benefits to know about.

Relieve anxiety

Taking in some me-time
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If you suffer with anxiety, one study suggests that a massage can actually help significantly reduce your symptoms. “What we think is going on is it’s decreasing the sympathetic tone that we see with people with generalized anxiety disorder and increasing this sort of parasympathetic response,” says Dr. Rapaport, who led the study.

Your body actually has two different nervous systems: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. “Your sympathetic is fight or flight,” says Rudy Gehrman, DC, a sports medicine chiropractor and founder of Physio Logic in New York. “If you’re getting chased by a lion, that’s your sympathetic nervous system.”

During a massage, however, your parasympathetic (or calming) response is increased, which results in a decrease in anxiety, says Dr. Rapaport.

And equally great news? Those effects of massage on decreased anxiety can actually be long-lasting. “We did an informal follow-up, and a significant number of these people remained anxiety-free anywhere from six months to 18 months later,” says Dr. Rapaport.

Sleep more soundly

Girl sleeping
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Have trouble sleeping or suffer from insomnia? Massage can actually help you sleep more deeply. “Sleep is all related to how much activity there is in the nervous system,” says Field. And when you get a massage, your nervous system itself actually slows down due to the pressure.

Plus, when you’re getting deeper, more restorative sleep, she says, that in turn reduces your levels of substance P (a neurotransmitter for pain), which reduces overall pain. So if you have any aches, massage will do double-duty.

Fight fatigue

Careful! Don't fly away from me now
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We’ve all been there: You’ve been tossing and turning all night, work has been completely draining, and you feel like you don’t even have five minutes to take a deep breath. “Some people get fatigued because they’re not sleeping enough,” says Dr. Rapaport. “Other people are getting fatigued because of some biological factors.”

But no matter what the cause of your fatigue is, one easy solution is (you guessed it) a massage. In fact, one 2018 study led by Dr. Rapaport found that breast cancer survivors who received weekly Swedish massages experienced a reduction in their fatigue, a particularly debilitating effect of the disease. To get the best effects, based on Dr. Rapaport’s study, try getting a massage once per week.

Aid certain health conditions

Senior Woman Checking Her Blood Sugar Level
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Your body has two different immune responses: Th1 and Th2, and they need to be in balance in order to have your immune system working optimally, says Field. “If the Th2 gets in excess of the Th1 system, then you have autoimmune problems,” she says.

But during massage, you’re slowing down stress hormones to help maintain this balance, she says. In turn, this can help make autoimmune conditions like asthma, type 1 diabetes, or dermatitis, more manageable through things like decreased pain or fatigue.

Boost focus

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Have trouble staying present in a meeting for more than 10 minutes or reading a book before bed? The effects of a massage will actually help improve your attention and ability to focus.

That’s because in order for you to best pay attention, your heart rate needs to be lowered. “If I’m not paying attention, it’s usually because my heart rate’s elevated,” says Field. “And when I get my heart rate down, I’ll be more attentive.”

Because a massage slows your nervous system, your heart rate is effectively slowed down, too. During a massage, your pressure receptors stimulate vagal activity, which stems from a nerve in your brain that leads to several different branches of the body, including the heart, says Field. So when you’re undergoing the pressure of a massage, it could decrease your heart rate, as well, which ultimately will improve your focus.

Heal injuries

Physiotherapist doing leg massage to his patient
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If you experience an injury or joint pain (especially if the problem is long-term or chronic), says Gehrman, you’ll also have what are called soft-tissue restrictions, which cause knots or trigger points of pain. “Massage therapists are getting rid of soft-tissue restrictions and increasing circulation,” he says.

Those restrictions can, over time, lead to problems like joint decay or other ligament problems, so by actively massaging out those soft-tissue restrictions, you’re not only helping your current injury, but also helping prevent against other problems down the road. But the important thing when getting a massage for your injury is going to an experienced, licensed massage therapist who has extensive experience with injured patients.

“Because any type of soft tissue work, you’re in essence causing scientific damage, and if you work too deep, then that person can’t heal from that treatment,” says Gehrman. A good, licensed massage therapist will be able to assess which areas around the injury need massage, and which areas are best to avoid.

Are there any massage risks?

Although there aren’t any proven risks of massage, if you have a medical history involving things like cardiovascular disease, cancer, or diabetes, these are things you should make your massage therapist aware of and go to a therapist who has experience with that particular problem.

Pregnant women should also seek out a therapist with pregnancy experience—“For pregnant females, you have to be really, really careful with positioning,” says Gehrman.

People with osteoporosis should find a therapist with experience in that, as well. “You can easily potentially break bones or ribs if a person is really, really osteoporotic,” says Gehrman.

How can I find a credible massage therapist?

The best (and easiest) way? “Call a local massage therapy school or the American Massage Therapy Association,” says Field. Massage therapy schools, in particular, put their massage therapists through intensive training, so you’ll know the therapist you’re going to is reliable.

“It’s a very extensive training,” says Gehrman. “It’s very thorough in anatomy.” If your massage therapist first takes note of your age, your current health status, and any previous medical history, that’s how you’ll know you’re (literally) in good hands.

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