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Massage: It's real medicine

Holiday Stress - Tips to stay on top

Mesothelioma and Massage Therapy

Yoga can blunt harmful effects of stress

Sound Sleep

Low Back Pain Prevention

Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity


Massage: It's real medicine

POSTED: 9:48 a.m. EST, March 8, 2007


By Kristyn Kusek Lewis
Having your honey rub your back is sweet, but it's tough to compete with the hands of a pro. A good massage therapist can make you feel like a new person. And now research suggests massage can ease insomnia, boost immunity, prevent PMS, and more. Maybe that's why hospitals are making it a standard therapy.

"All of our surgery patients are offered the treatment -- I call it 'service with a smile' -- and it's a mandatory weekly prescription I give myself," says Mehmet C. Oz, M.D., director of the Cardiovascular Institute at New York Presbyterian Hospital--Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center and a member of the board at LLuminari, a health-education company.

Our advice: Enjoy your hands-on time with your sweetie, but set aside some time for a real massage, too. Here are some feel-good reasons:

Goodbye, pain

It sounds like a no-brainer, but rubdowns are especially effective for aches like low-back pain. Researchers at the Group Health Center for Health Studies in Seattle, Washington, found that massage works better than common treatments including chiropractic therapy and acupuncture. It's not clear why, but several studies show massage reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol while boosting the feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine. Those changes slow your heart rate, reduce blood pressure, and block your nervous system's pain receptors. Massage also increases blood flow to the muscles, which may help them heal. ( Frequently asked questions about massageexternal link )

A bonus: Massage also seems to ease distress from migraine, labor pain, and even cancer, as well as the body tenderness seen with fibromyalgia, says Tiffany Field, Ph.D., director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine. Plus, the benefits may last as long as a year after just a few treatments, says Partap Khalsa, Ph.D., a chiropractor and a program officer at the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Com­plementary and Alternative Medicine, the agency funding many major studies on massage.

Hello, dreams

Fluctuations in several types of brain waves either relax you or wake you up. Massage increases delta waves -- those linked with deep sleep -- according to a study at the Touch Research Institute. That's why it's easy to drift off on the massage table, Field says.

Nice to have you back, brain power

The Touch Research Institute study that connected massage to sleep also found that a 15-minute chair massage boosted alertness. "Subjects reported that it felt like a runner's high," Field says. Tests also show that brain-wave activity stimulated by massage is linked to improved attention.

Take that, colds

Massage helps ward off bugs by boosting your "natural killer cells," the immune system's first line of defense against invading illness. "We know that cortisol destroys natural killer cells," Field says. "Therefore, since massage decreases cortisol, your immune cells get a boost." Massage even seems to boost immunity in those people with severely compromised immune systems, such as breast-cancer patients. ( Which massage is best for you?external link)

Blues, be gone

Less cortisol and more serotonin and dopamine in your system may also mean less stress, anxiety, and depression. "We know that the right side of the frontal lobe of the brain is more active when we're sad, and the left side's activated when we're happy," Field says. "Our studies have observed that massage decreases activity in the right lobe and increases functioning in the left." The well-being people feel after a massage is a big reason why some hospitals offer it to anxious patients pre­paring for surgery and cancer patients going through chemo.

Shove off, PMS

A small study of 24 women with severe PMS found that massage reduced symp­toms such as pain, water retention, and mood swings. Try it with proven remedies such as exercise (and who-cares-if-they-work solutions like a little dark chocolate).


Copyright 2006 HEALTH Magazine. All rights reserved

Yoga can blunt harmful effects of stress, from the Harvard Mental Health Letter

Yoga has been studied since the 1970s as a possible treatment for depression and anxiety. How well it works has been hard to say, since until recently, many of the studies evaluating its therapeutic benefits have been small and poorly designed. Now, more rigorous research on yoga suggests that performing this ancient practice may be helpful for both anxiety and depression, reports the April 2009 issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter.

Yoga appears to blunt the harmful effects of heightened stress by influencing the body's response to stress. This is reflected in slower heart and breathing rates and lower blood pressure, all of which are good for the body. There is also evidence that yoga helps increase heart rate variability, an indicator of the body’s flexibility in responding to stress.

For example, in 2008, researchers presented preliminary results from a study of yoga and pain. Their subjects were 12 yoga practitioners, 14 people with fibromyalgia (a condition many researchers consider a stress-related illness that is characterized by hypersensitivity to pain), and 16 healthy volunteers. When the three groups were subjected to external pain (pressure on a thumbnail), the yoga practitioners had the highest pain tolerance and the lowest pain-related brain activity on a brain scan.

For individuals dealing with depression, anxiety, stress, or pain, yoga may be a relaxing and appealing way to manage symptoms. But although many forms of yoga practice are safe, some are strenuous and may not be appropriate for everyone, notes Dr. Michael Miller, editor in chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter. Older patients and those with mobility problems should check with a doctor before starting a yoga program. For more information on stress, visit Harvard Health Publications' Stress Resource Center

Read Full-length Article: "Yoga for anxiety and depression"


Sound Sleep

A Prescription for Health and Happiness

By Shirley Vanderbilt

Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Spring/Summer 2005.

Copyright 2005. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.

For the most part, we are a sleep-deprived nation. We rush through weekdays, operating on too little sleep and crash on weekends in an attempt to recover. And even for those of us clocking the requisite hours, sleep may be interrupted for a variety of reasons. According to Ralph Pascualy, M.D., medical director of the Swedish Sleep Medicine Institute (SSMI) in Seattle, Wash., both the quantity and quality of our sleep directly affect our health. 

While nutrition and exercise have been considered the foundation of health, Pascualy says, "Research is showing that sleep has to be the third leg of that three-legged stool. Sleep seems to affect health through several channels. If you are sleeping less than eight hours per night, you have chronic sleep debt, and it cannot be paid by catching up on the weekend." 

The consequences of sleep deprivation include irritability, problems with concentration, and fatigue, Pascualy says. Learning -- the ability to retain and consolidate long-term memory -- is affected along with metabolism. "Sleep that is disturbed and broken may appear to be long enough, but poor quality will prevent sleep from completing its biological task. So it looks like disordered sleep can affect the way insulin works in the body and can further affect body weight." 

Why is this? Experts don't have all the answers, but research has identified two distinct types of sleep that alternate in a four-stage cycle repeated throughout the night. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the more active phase we associate with vivid dreams, becomes progressively longer as the cycles repeat. Interrupted or inadequate length of sleep interfere with the continuity of the cycles, resulting in deprivation of REM sleep. For reasons as yet unknown, REM sleep is vitally important to our bodies and may play a key role in processing emotions. 

Equally essential is the quality of non-REM sleep, the more quiet stage some say is related to body repair and restoration. But the key point, Pascualy says, is the refreshening effect on brain chemistry. The brain seems to require sleep more than any other organ. "We also know for sure that growth hormone is secreted during stages three and four of sleep." As for emotional benefits, he says researchers aren't entirely sure how the structure of sleep affects them, "but sleep loss results in irritability and overexaggerated stress response. People in this state are at risk of negative cardiovascular outcomes." 

Minor sleep disturbances -- the occasional insomnia or restless night -- are inconvenient to say the least. But more chronic and severe disorders, such as sleep apnea, sleepwalking, and narcolepsy, can put health, and even life, at risk. An estimated 30 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, a condition heavily associated with snoring, in which breathing is blocked and completely stops. While the majority of cases occur in men, Pascualy says there has been a rise in identification of sleep-related breathing problems in several groups previously undiagnosed, such as children and post-menopausal women.

With the growth of sleep research and availability of specialty sleep centers throughout the country, disorders like sleep apnea can be successfully evaluated and treated. SSMI, one the country's premier sleep centers, offers a multidisciplinary approach to patients, combining a team of physicians, respiratory therapists, and other sleep specialists with high-tech equipment. As in most centers, evaluation may include an overnight stay at the sleep laboratory. With an accurate diagnosis in hand, treatment is pinpointed specifically to the patient's needs and the problem is resolved. 

But, according to Pascualy, many physicians are dropping the ball, either by not asking patients about their sleep health or simply prescribing drugs in lieu of a thorough evaluation. Similarly, people who are unable to sleep or are tired may not bring it to the doctor's attention, tending instead to self-diagnose by attributing their problems to stress or other factors. "There should be a diagnosis and evaluation," he emphasizes. 

A Good Night's Sleep
Pascualy says the two most important contributions to a good night's sleep are maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and preparing properly for bedtime. 

Go to sleep and rise at the same time every day of the week. "You should sleep eight hours and be done with it," he says. Oversleeping on weekends throws your body rhythm off, making it more difficult to get back into a routine Sunday night, and does not improve your function or help you recover from sleep debt. Allow yourself time for winding down in the evening so that when you hit the pillow, your body is not in a hyperactive state.

To enhance relaxation, avoid coffee or other stimulants close to bedtime. Even alcohol can disrupt sleep patterns and, along with food, should not be consumed within a few hours of your scheduled bedtime. Whatever calms your mind -- a hot soak in the tub, quiet music, meditation -- can serve to prepare your body for sleep. The important thing is that you establish a routine and stick to it. Using techniques that reduce anxiety and stress will facilitate your success. 

While alternative therapies should not be considered stand-alone treatment for sleep disorders, some (e.g., receiving regular massage and bodywork) can be appropriate complements to a good sleep routine. SSMI's team includes a wellness coordinator trained in meditation and relaxation techniques. Pascualy points out the importance of hands-on education for patients, rather than referring them to reading materials. 

"One place where all of those practices play a great role is in good sleep hygiene -- good preparation for sleep, where you quiet your mind," he says. As part of a comprehensive plan, all contribute to maintaining a healthful lifestyle.

Whether you're sleepless in Seattle, Dallas, or New York, there is hope. You may need nothing more than a few changes in your sleep routine to wake up refreshed each morning. But if chronic sleep problems plague you, affecting your health and happiness, a thorough evaluation at a sleep center is long overdue. You could be losing more than just sleep. 

Shirley Vanderbilt is a staff writer for Body Sense magazine.


As mentioned on Web MD:

Low Back Pain - Prevention

There is no clear evidence that you can prevent low back pain. Nearly everyone experiences it at some time. But there are some things you can do to help prevent low back pain. And they can prepare you for faster recovery if you do have low back pain. Some of them also have added health benefits. Here are some things you can do:

  • Exercise to keep your back healthy and strong. Exercise programs that include aerobic conditioning and strengthening exercises can help reduce the recurrence of low back pain. For more information, see:
     Fitness: Increasing core stability.
     Low back pain: Exercises to reduce pain.
  • Learn how to lift objects safely to protect your back. For more information, see:
     Back problems: Proper lifting.
  • Protect your back while sitting. Standing posture is also important. For most people, good posture means that when you stand, your ears, shoulders, hips, and knees should be in line with one another.
  • Try different sleeping positions camera that protect your back. If you sleep on your side, try putting a pillow between your knees. If you sleep on your back, use a pillow under your knees. You can also try rolling up a small towel and using it to support your lower back.
  • Wear low-heeled shoes.
  • Maintain a healthy weight to avoid excess strain on your lower back. For more information, see the topic Weight Management.
  • If you're a smoker, quit. Smoking increases your risk of bone loss (osteoporosis) and increases your sensitivity to pain. Smoking also interferes with bloodcirculation by tightening the arteries, which makes it harder for blood to flow, and by decreasing the amount of oxygen the red blood cells can carry. Spinal discs do not have their own blood supply, but receive nutrition in part from the blood supply to the vertebral bones above and below them. Decreased circulation may increase the speed of degeneration and/or slow the healing of the discs. For more information on how to quit, see the topic Quitting Smoking.
  • Eat a nutritious diet. Getting plenty of calciumphosphorus, and vitamin D may help prevent osteoporosis, which can lead to compression fractures and low back pain.
  • Manage the stress in your life, both at home and at work



Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity

By Mayo Clinic staff

Original Article:

Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity

You know exercise is good for you, but do you know how good? From boosting your mood to improving your sex life, find out how exercise can improve your life.

By Mayo Clinic staff

Want to feel better, have more energy and perhaps even live longer? Look no further than exercise. The health benefits of regular exercise and physical activity are hard to ignore. And the benefits of exercise are yours for the taking, regardless of your age, sex or physical ability. Need more convincing to exercise? Check out these seven ways exercise can improve your life.

No. 1: Exercise controls weight

Exercise can help prevent excess weight gain or help maintain weight loss. When you engage in physical activity, you burn calories. The more intense the activity, the more calories you burn. You don't need to set aside large chunks of time for exercise to reap weight-loss benefits. If you can't do an actual workout, get more active throughout the day in simple ways — by taking the stairs instead of the elevator or revving up your household chores.

No. 2: Exercise combats health conditions and diseases

Worried about heart disease? Hoping to prevent high blood pressure? No matter what your current weight, being active boosts high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good," cholesterol and decreases unhealthy triglycerides. This one-two punch keeps your blood flowing smoothly, which decreases your risk of cardiovascular diseases. In fact, regular physical activity can help you prevent or manage a wide range of health problems and concerns, including stroke, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, depression, certain types of cancer, arthritis and falls.

No. 3: Exercise improves mood

Need an emotional lift? Or need to blow off some steam after a stressful day? A workout at the gym or a brisk 30-minute walk can help. Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. You may also feel better about your appearance and yourself when you exercise regularly, which can boost your confidence and improve your self-esteem.

No. 4: Exercise boosts energy

Winded by grocery shopping or household chores? Regular physical activity can improve your muscle strength and boost your endurance. Exercise and physical activity deliver oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and help your cardiovascular system work more efficiently. And when your heart and lungs work more efficiently, you have more energy to go about your daily chores.

No. 5: Exercise promotes better sleep

Struggling to fall asleep? Or to stay asleep? Regular physical activity can help you fall asleep faster and deepen your sleep. Just don't exercise too close to bedtime, or you may be too energized to fall asleep.

No. 6: Exercise puts the spark back into your sex life

Do you feel too tired or too out of shape to enjoy physical intimacy? Regular physical activity can leave you feeling energized and looking better, which may have a positive effect on your sex life. But there's more to it than that. Regular physical activity can lead to enhanced arousal for women. And men who exercise regularly are less likely to have problems with erectile dysfunction than are men who don't exercise.

No. 7: Exercise can be fun

Exercise and physical activity can be a fun way to spend some time. It gives you a chance to unwind, enjoy the outdoors or simply engage in activities that make you happy. Physical activity can also help you connect with family or friends in a fun social setting. So, take a dance class, hit the hiking trails or join a soccer team. Find a physical activity you enjoy, and just do it. If you get bored, try something new.

The bottom line on exercise

Exercise and physical activity are a great way to feel better, gain health benefits and have fun. As a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day. If you want to lose weight or meet specific fitness goals, you may need to exercise more. Remember to check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program, especially if you have any health concerns.

HQ01676July 23, 2011

© 1998-2011 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved. A single copy of these materials may be reprinted for noncommercial personal use only. "Mayo," "Mayo Clinic," "," "EmbodyHealth," "Enhance your life," and the triple-shield Mayo Clinic logo are trademarks of Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.

Mesothelioma and Massage Therapy

The medical and recreational application of massage extends many years into the past. Ideally for many patients suffering from malignant mesothelioma, fibromyalgia, or a number of other pain-inducing problems, massage offers a natural, supplemental treatment to alleviate pain. Aside from having no side effects, this practice encourages harmony of the mind and body to holistically improve any person in pain.

Those victimized by the pain of mesothelioma, a form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure, are ideal candidates for massage treatment. Many authorities in rehabilitation and medicine describe massage as a form of alternative medicine. While it is not a cure by itself, strong evidence suggests it assists more conventional cancer treatments. When combined in such a way, massage and cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or tumor removal have been proven very effective at expediting recovery while decreasing pain.

Massage Benefits

When one or many parts of the body need nutrient-rich blood to help repair damaged tissue, massaging helps transport the blood faster by “opening up” the blood vessels across which this happens. Once this is achieved, pain, aches and soreness will often be greatly alleviated thanks to the nutrients transported by the blood. Although there are variations in the massages that encourage such an effect, such as the heavily popularized Swedish massage and shiatsu, they all operate on this important premise in their unique, often culturally-derived ways.

For those with mesothelioma in particular, it remains important to reiterate that massage should not be seen as a cure but as only a useful aide in a successful recovery. The role of massage needs to be understood as more than just a means of addressing pain in order for it to be fully effective. In many situations, its application encourages a calm and relaxed demeanor that is needed for treatment. With a clearer, more positive frame of mind, patients often recover much more successfully than with a stressful one. If massage therapy appeals to a patient, all it takes to start a professional massage regimen is an earnest request to the primary care physician.

Although massage is a veteran among therapeutic treatments, its applications in treating cancer have just surfaced recently. With such rapidly growing success, however, massage is now its own area of therapy that serves cancer patients. The official name for this kind of massage, the formal practice of which requires licensure, is the oncology massage.   

Oncology Massage

With the oncology massage, physicians and therapists must research each patient’s case, as cancer pain can manifest itself in different areas of the body and in different ways. For this reason, an educated approach needs to be taken in order to streamline the efficiency of the massage while avoiding damaging tissue or otherwise worsening the condition. When these considerations are carefully respected, along with an acute awareness and appreciation for the patient’s emotional state, a truly holistic improvement can be made through this treatment.

Any therapist licensed to administer oncology massages will likely know about the kind of treatments, such as radiation therapy, that most mesothelioma patients are undergoing in conjunction with massage therapy. This knowledge is extremely important in ensuring the success of a patient’s recovery. Often times, those who are shuffled around within the medical community fall victim to a lack of good communication between the various health professionals, which can stagnate recovery or even worsen the situation. Oncology massage professionals are specifically trained to communicate and act in conjunction with what goes on outside their own doors, out of true respect for the patient and the recovery process. With this therapy’s ability to seamlessly integrate into a patient’s standard regimen, many have seen encouraging results in their course of treatment as a result of massage therapy.


The American Cancer Society

Mesothelioma Survival Rate


Holiday Stress

Tips to Stay On Top


By Editorial Staff


Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, October/November 2000.
Copyright since 2000. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.

Here "it" comes -- holiday stress. As families negotiate where to spend Thanksgiving, and millions of us are making the empty promise to ourselves to start early on holiday shopping, the anxiety begins to build. And it only gets crazier from here. Choir practice for the kids, family gatherings at every turn, office parties, treks to the mall, know where this is headed. So what can you do about it? You may not be able to control the chaos of the season, but there are some steps to make sure you survive it unscathed.

1.Take time for yourself. YES, get a massage. Soak in a mineral bath. Listen to the silence of a snowfall. Even if there seems no possible moment you can claim as your own, close your eyes, breathe deep from your belly several times, exhaling the air loudly from your mouth. Do this whenever you need a "moment."

2. Utilize catalog/online shopping. Don't fight the crowds. From the convenience of your home or during an office lunch hour, catalog and online shopping can eliminate the headache of holiday stress tenfold.

3. Eat right. Some of the best goodies come out this time of year. While you shouldn't deny yourself the opportunity to have a piece of grandma's pumpkin pie, don't overdo it. Remember to eat plenty of vegies and fruits to help stave off the winter's bombardment of colds.

4. Give yourself the advantage. Consumption of alcohol, nicotine, drugs and caffeine elicit the body's stress reaction. Remember moderation, you'll be happier and calmer in the long run.

5. Don't skimp on the exercise...but allow yourself to be excused from the routine when need be. Exercise helps melt the stress away and can provide that moment of clarity in a hectic day.

6. Don't try to be Martha Stewart. It's easy to get caught up in the spirit of the holidays with new decorating ideas, fancy dinners and the whim to make all your gifts this year. Be realistic and honest with yourself. Don't set yourself up for failure. Hire a caterer. Have friends help by having a craft day. Forgo making the gift wreath and give a gift you'll know they'll appreciate -- a massage.

7. Remember the spirit. When it's all said and done, no one will remember that the turkey was a little dry, that the sweater didn't fit, or that you were a few minutes late for rehearsal. What do they remember? The precious moments with family and friends.
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