Knead Your Sniffles Away
In the study, people who received 45 minutes of deep-tissue massage showed significant increases in a type of small white blood cell called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are master strategists in your immune system -- they assess any infectious organisms or foreign invaders and decide exactly how your body should attack them. Some turn into memory cells that can then recognize that specific antigen and immediately trigger an aggressive response to fight it for years, even decades, to come. (You can thank these cells for protecting you from enduring multiple bouts of the same virus, whether it is chicken pox or a common cold strain.) Deep tissue massage also simultaneously reduced levels of cytokines, a type of protein that triggers inflammation.
Relieve Stress to Strengthen Immunity
The typical reason people turn to massage -- stress relief -- has immune system benefits in itself. Stress hormones destroy the immune system’s “natural killer” cells that target cancer and viruses. In the NIH study, cortisol levels were reduced by more than a third.
Make Massage a Part Of Your Life
You don’t have to be a lifelong massage enthusiast to reap the benefits. “Biological changes occur as a result of even a single session of massage,” says Mark Hyman Rapaport, MD, professor and chair of the department of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and lead researcher of the NIH study.