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Massage Meets Science: Single Session Yields Significant Biological Benefits

(Sept. 20 from AOL News) -- Massage therapy can trigger positive changes in brain chemicals, leading to reduced levels of stress and anxiety among the lucky recipients of a rub-down.

That a massage offers vital relaxation benefits should be no surprise to devotees. Indeed, massage therapy in the United States has skyrocketed in recent years: Nearly 9 percent of American adults enjoyed at least one massage last year.

But the perks go beyond aromatherapy lotion, essential oils and the inevitable bliss of a veritable 60-minute cat-nap. A study out of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center concluded that two kinds of massage -- a lighter touch and a more vigorous Swedish massage -- instantly reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

And while some of us prefer the pain-for-gain massage style, recipients of light massages also enjoyed a jolt of stress-relieving oxytocin hormone.

Dr. Mark Hyman Rapaport, the chairman of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Cedars-Sinai -- and a self-professed skeptic where alternative medicine is concerned -- called the results "very, very intriguing and very, very exciting" in an interview with The New York Times.

Despite the popularity of massage, solid study on its potential health benefits remains limited.

Research within the last decade, however, has suggested that massage therapy might offer mood-boosting effects, and pain relief, for terminal cancer patients. Not to mention the relief of chronic back pain and a speedier recovery from some sports injuries.

Even Dr. Oz is a fan.

"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," the doc, who was the director of the Cardiovascular Institute at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, told CNN in 2007.

And of course, celebrity athletes such as David Beckham are also reported to have a fondness for full-body friction (though his establishment of choice may be of debatable repute).

Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health, which backed the Cedars-Sinai research, is also sponsoring other studies into the role massage might play in promoting better health.

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