Massage and Immunity

As the seasons transition from summer to fall your body begins a natural transition of its own.
Digestion slows, energy wanes and you become more susceptible to infection and airborne illness. Boosting your immune system now can help fight off pesky colds or flu symptoms as the colder months arrive.
Getting regular massages has been proven to strengthen immunity and fend off sickness.
Here are a few ways that massage helps boost your immune system.

Massage increases white blood cell count.
White blood cells, or Lymphocytes, are natural killer cells that defend your body from viruses. When you are sick your body produces a stress hormone called Cortisol. Cortisol attacks white blood cells leaving you vulnerable to infection and disease. A 60-minute massage can reduce the production of cortisol, increasing white blood cell count. An increase in white blood cell activity better prepares your body to fight off possible invaders.

Massage circulates blood and lymph, removing toxins and waste.
The system that transports natural killer cells that defend your body from viruses is known as the lymphatic system. It is a network of tissues and organs that help move toxins and waste out of the body by way of lymph fluid. Movement of lymph fluid is largely dependent on the squeezing effect of muscle contraction.
Massage facilitates lymph movement by compressing and releasing congested areas. The squeezing and pulling action of massage stimulates circulation that carries waste and toxins away from muscles and internal organs.

Massage helps improve sleep
Another key component to maintain a healthy immune system is getting enough rest. You need about 8 hours of sleep to function properly and fight off illness. Regular poor sleep can lead to higher risk of cold and flu viruses, among many other health conditions.
Massage improves your sleep by activating your parasympathetic or “rest and digest” nervous system. It calms your heart rate and breathing, and increases intestinal and gland activity.
While in the rest and digest stage, your body decreases the production cortisol and increases melatonin production. Melatonin directly influences the stage of deep, sleep. When your body spends more time in the restorative stage of rest it is much more able to defend you from attacks.

When not to get a massage
Massage can boost your immune system but if you are in the initial, acute stage of sickness it’s best to cancel your session. If you are already dealing with symptoms, massage can actually make you feel worse. Best idea is to stay home and rest. This is also being considerate of your therapist and other clients. After you are past the initial stage, massage can help relax tight upper back and neck muscles you may have developed from coughing. Tapotement, a more aggressive form of massage can help break up mucus still trapped in your respiratory system. Massage can also relieve headache and sinus pressure.
*It is always important to consult your physician before receiving a massage.

Other helpful tips to stay well this season:

1. Drink plenty of water – The cooler months bring dryer air. Drinking water keeps your body hydrated during the dryer months. Try drinking half your body weight in ounces each day to stay properly hydrated. For example, if you are 100 lbs, drink 50 ounces of water. *Purchase a water bottle with measurements on the side to track your intake. Ask your friends and co-workers to challenge you for added support!
2. Stay warm – This one may seem obvious but it’s important to stay warm. It might be difficult to swap out your flip-flops for close-toed shoes but keeping your feet warm conserves heat energy in your body. When you get home from work put on your slipper socks. Your immune system will thank you.
3. Get moving – It’s easy to want to stay under the blankets during Fall but getting up and moving will help keep cold and flu viruses away. Yin yoga is an awesome way to move your body. It increases body heat and heart rate without the intensity of a summer workout.

These are only a few of the health benefits of massage. If you’d like to learn more and boost your immune system to fend off this winter’s cold and flu, schedule a massage and talk to your therapist about immune boosting strategies.

Photo Credit: Jakob Owens/Unsplash