Touch Therapy

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(Natural Health Magazine, March 2007 issue)

Author: Elizabeth Baker

Your health routine may be missing an element that’s crucial for keeping stress and sickness at bay.  “Touch is just as important to our health as diet and exercise,” says Tiffany Field, Ph.D, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine.  Physical contact helps control levels of hormones that, when left unregulated, can destroy the frontline of our immune systems, and leave us vulnerable to illness.

Touch suppresses stress hormones by rousing the body’s pressure receptors and thus stimulating the brains vagus nerve (considered one of the most important nerves in the body).  “Activity in the vagus nerve slows heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and leads to improved health overall, “Field says.  Simply rubbing lotion on your skin may prompt vagus nerve activity, but massage provides one of the most powerful forms of stimulation and can promote total-body rejuvenation. In fact, one of Field’s studies, published in the October 2005 issue of the International Journal of Neuroscience, found that an average of 30 minutes of massage can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol by almost one third.  “Apart from being a great stress reliever, massage helps boost circulation, cleanse the body of toxins, and ease pain.” Says Demara Stamler, executive director of the Potomac Massage Training Institute in Washington, D.C. “It can also help you recover faster from injury.”

Getting a tension melting rubdown should help shield you from the fallout of day-to-day stress, says Mary Beth Braun, president of the American Massage Therapy Association.

Stress relief isn’t the only mind-body benefit of touch.  “We tend to be fairly isolated in our culture today, so massage can improve our psychological and emotional health by helping us feel more connected, “ Says Stamler.

And when you’re not having knots kneaded away by a licensed massage therapist, seek out the healing touch of those around you.  According to Dr. Tiffany Field, a hug or even a firm hand shake can be enough to stimulate your vagus nerve receptors.

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