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The Massage Habit: New Reasons to Love Massage

Massage could benefit you in some surprising ways.

I am constantly seeking better ways to incorporate stress reduction into my daily routine. Most afternoons I do 15 minutes of yoga or meditation or just sit on my porch and stare at the butterflies. Sometimes I get remarkable results, especially with a short yoga DVD, sometimes just a pleasant break. So a recent article in the New York Times about the benefits of massage touched off a train of new thoughts and actions.

The article described a small study in which 53 adults received either one 45-minute session of Swedish massage or one 45-minute session of light massage. Blood samples taken before and after the study revealed that just one session of Swedish massage lowered stress chemicals like cortisol significantly and also increased immune system cells like lymphocytes.

Volunteers who received the light massage also benefited. They experienced greater increases in oxytocin, a.k.a. the "cuddle hormone" that skyrockets during nursing and after orgasm. Like the Swedish massage group, these volunteers also experienced decreases in stress-related hormones.

At first brush, this study seemed like something to store in the "no duh" file. Anyone can attest that massage relaxes you. But apparently until now little research has been done on how that relaxation comes about at the physiological level. It's interesting that just one session of massage is a tonic in itself. What's more, the finding that massage seems to wake up your immune system cells is intriguing. ( From now on, whenever I feel under the weather, I'm paying a visit to my friendly neighborhood massage therapist.)

I decided to celebrate the results of this study in the only way possible--I went to my local Whole Foods supermarket for a short chair massage. After only 20 minutes, I was one happy noodle. At $1/minute, the standard charge, this was a bargain. Perhaps the next goal for the massage research team would be to discover the minimum minutes of massage it would take to get the stress-reduction-immune-system-stimulation effect and how long those healthy and feel-good chemicals would remain in your system. I hereby volunteer for this study. Recruit me, please!

Although I've received chair massages from time to time in the past, I now have decided that 10-20 minutes of massage per week is affordable, doable, and beneficial to my health. I am going to create a weekly massage habit. (Of course, if you are hurting financially, you'll want to watch your expenses, so just recruit your friend or partner. Relieving stress now in a way that creates more stress later is the very definition of a bad habit!)

I intend to continue practicing conscious relaxation like yoga and meditation. Still, it will be delicious to anticipate the receptive relaxation of massage.

Isn't it wonderful to realize that something that you really love anyway is actually good for you in ways you didn't even know about?

(c) Meg Selig

I am the author of Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success (Routledge, 2009). For short takes on habit change, willpower, and healthy living, follow me on Facebook and/or Twitter.


"Regimens: Massage Benefits Are More than Skin Deep," by Roni Caryn Rabin, NYTimes, Sept. 20, 2010.

Rapaport, M.H., Schettler, P., & Bresee, C. "A Preliminary Study of the Effects of a Single Session of Swedish Massage on Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal and Immune Function in Normal Individuals." Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Sept. 1, 2010. See Accessed 9/24/10.