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7 Health Benefits of Massage

I’m a big fan of the spa.

And my all-time fave spa treatment? Massage therapy.

I’ve long been convinced that it’s more than just an indulgence. A professional, therapeutic massage is so relaxing and feels so great…there just has to be health benefit, right?

Right.

In case you’re in need of a little justification, here are 7 reasons to treat yourself to a massage:

1.To improve your sleep.

A number of studies have looked at the connection between therapeutic massage and sleep, and indeed, there has been demonstrated benefit for people who suffer insomnia–due to a variety of reasons, like menopause. Studies have shown particular benefit with massage using essential oils, especially lavender. (Need more help with sleep? Read this ).

2.To better recover from a hard workout.

A recent study confirmed what many trainers already practiced: that a short, 10 minute swedish massage post-workout reduces inflammation in muscles, which can help your body recover.

3.To manage anxiety & depression.

Again, multiple studies have looked at massage therapy’s ability to alleviate anxiety and improve mood. And there have been encouraging findings: massage therapy appears to decrease cortisol, a stress hormone, and increase serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters that help reduce depression.

4.To reduce PMS symptoms.

A couple of small-ish studies have shown promise in the PMS-relieving department. Women treated with reflexology, in one study, and therapeutic massage, in another, showed decreased premenstrual symptoms, like mood changes, cramping and bloating.

5.To boost brainpower.

Typically, we think of a massage as hypnotic, relaxing, and slowing us down…but this study showed that it can increase alertness and make you a little sharper, cognitively. Subjects performed math calculations faster and more accurately after receiving regular 15-minute chair massages (twice weekly, for 5 weeks) than those who didn’t get a rubdown. (Here’s more on how to give that brain a boost).

6.To jack up your immunity.

Sick of getting one cold after another? Studies have connected massage therapy with improved immune system function. A randomized trial in 2010 took blood samples of research subjects and those who had received massage therapy had improved white blood cell number and function.

7.To ease headaches.

Several years ago I found myself in a stressful work arrangement, and the way my body showed its displeasure? Frequent headaches. But I had to stick things out for several more months…so one of my coping strategies was to get regular massages. It helped me big-time. Research back this up, too. Multiple studies have shown that massage therapy can help reduce the frequency and severity of both migraine and tension headaches.

Justification? Check.

Most excellent.

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The Surprising Effects Of Chewing Gum

When I was a kid, my mother refused to allow me or my sisters to chew gum. This was an incredible injustice in my eyes. Chewing gum was cool! But she stayed firm: she couldn’t stand seeing little girls chomping away on gum. To her, it looked cheap, stupid, and classless. As an adult, I have to admit, she was right about that. Chewing gum is probably not your best way to appear intelligent and grown-up.

However, while it may not look great, recent research suggests that chewing gum has some rather interesting effects. In fact, it may improve mood, reduce stress, and improve alertness and cognitive function.

In several studies, chewing gum has been associated with improved attention, greater alertness and a more positive mood. Reaction times were quicker when research subjects were chewing gum, and this effect became bigger as the task became more difficult.

Not all studies have shown completely consistent results, of course, as is always the way with research. Some studies showed that chewing gum improved memory; subsequent studies failed to show this result. But after reviewing the literature, I’m pretty convinced that, overall, there’s something about chewing gum that gives us a brain and mood boost.

So, as long as you can be somewhat subtle about it (no open-mouthed chomping please, ladies!) chewing gum can give you an edge and amp up your health & mood a little. Totally calorie-free, and without effort. Now how often can you say that?

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Smart Cookie: 8 Ways to Boost Your Brain Power

A new study found that celery (specifically, luteolin, a compound found within celery) had brain-boosting power in older mice. Yes, celery.

So this got me thinking: are there other things you can do to upgrade your smarty-pants quotient?

You betcha.

Omega-3 fatty acids are well-known to boost brain function. This, in addition to all the other health benefits of omega-3, of course. Smarten up with fish like salmon and mackerel, walnuts, and flaxseed.

Caffeine. I know what you’re thinking–coffee only gives a temporary jolt to those neurons, right? Wrong. Studies have linked coffee with a decreased rate of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other forms of dementia.

Meditation. Making a regular practice of meditation has been shown to improve memory and cognitive sharpness.

Breakfast. Research backs up what your mama always told you. Eating that oh-so-crucial morning meal has been shown to improve short-term memory and attention. Students with a good breakfast under their belt tend to perform significantly better than those who skipped their Wheaties.

Nuts and Seeds. Vitamin E is a superb antioxidant, and antioxidants are associated with less “now where did I put my keys?” as you age. Nuts and seeds happen to have lots of vitamin E.

Chocolate. Specifically, dark chocolate. This yummy treat also has powerful antioxidant properties (plus a little caffeine–see above). Keep your daily intake limited to an ounce, however, or say hello to a nice new muffin top.

Blueberries. Animal research has demonstrated the benefits of blueberries: they appear to protect the brain from oxidative stress and may reduce the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Plus, aging rats on a blueberry-rich diet showed significant improvement in learning capacity and motor skills.

Sleep. A multitude of studies show the link between lack of sleep and mental dullness: poor memory, crummy concentration, slow reaction time, inefficient learning….and on, and on. So hit the sack. Your brain (and body) will thank you.

Coffee: Does Your Body Good?

Coffee has long been one of my favorite indulgences. Actually, let’s be honest. I can’t get through my day without visiting Starbucks. Even so…my sipping usually comes with a teeny bit of guilt.

Reasonable? Turns out, probably not. In fact, it looks like I just might be doing myself some good with my daily dose.

There’s a growing body of research showing a boatload of benefits to coffee. I’ve been sifting through the evidence lately, and here’s the roundup:

  • Coffee appears to be good for your brain. It decreases the risks of Parkinson’s and dementia, including Alzheimers.
  • It’s good for your cardiovascular health. Seems coffee decreases your risks of stroke and cardiac arrhythmias (abnormal rhythms of the heart).
  • Coffee helps prevent cancer. There’s evidence for prevention of the following types of cancer: bladder, breast, colorectal, endometrial, esophageal, liver, leukemia, pancreatic, prostate, oral cancers.

Prevention of dementia, strokes, and cancer? And all while enjoying my morning coffee? Me likey.

So what’s the deal? What makes coffee health food suddenly? The experts point to the multitude of phytochemicals in brewed coffee. Certainly there are plenty of antioxidants: polyphenols, flavonoids, and chlorogenic acid. Researchers have also isolated diterpenes in coffee, compounds known to be anticarcinogenic. What about the caffeine itself? More study is needed, but it looks like caffeine is one of the components that helps with brain health. For the other health benefits, it seems decaf might do the same job as full-caff versions.

What are the negatives? Well, if you overcaffeinate (more than 4 cups a day) your bone density can suffer. Coffee also increases heartburn, and worsens stomach conditions like ulcers. It also depends how you take your coffee: If you dump a whole lotta sugar in your cup, you’re going to be negating many of the health benefits. And if you’re pregnant? While studies suggest one cup a day is okay, more than that might increase your risk of miscarriage.

Bottom line: like so many things, don’t overdo it.

Vitamin Coffee? Drink up.

Dr. Kim Foster, MD. (photo credit: Tamea Burd Photography)

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