RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—You don't need to strip down and carve out an hour and a half break for a soothing, full-body massage to banish stress. Of course, those are great ideas when you have the time. But when you don't, why not try a hand massage?
THE DETAILS: A new study published last year in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that a five-minute hand massage significantly lowered stress levels. The study focused on hand massage as a way to lower stress in end-stage cancer patients. In the small study, researchers studied 34 patients and measured stress levels through saliva samples. After a five-minute hand massage, stress levels were significantly lower in both the anxious and non-anxious patients.
WHAT IT MEANS: Although this study focused on people with cancer, it's important to note that we can all benefit from stress reduction through the power of touch. Chronically high levels of stress hormones like cortisol in your system can increase inflammation and actually hamper the healing process for even minor ailments. In fact, an Ohio State University study of 100 volunteers who received identical blisters found that the angry, stressed-out people took four times as long to heal. Scientists have linked higher cortisol levels to a suppressed immune system, higher blood pressure, and higher blood sugar levels.
The big picture? The Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine looked at more than a dozen massage studies and found that massage therapy relieves depression and anxiety by affecting the body's biochemistry. Massage therapy lowered cortisol levels by about 53 percent. Massage also boosts levels of serotonin and dopamine, natural antidepressants produced by your body. A back or full-body massage isn't always an option when you're having a bad day—unfortunately—but a quick hand massage could do the trick.