Cardiovascular disease accounts for one in every 3 deaths making it the #1 leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. While there are many different types of heart disease, the American Heart Association advocates for early prevention strategies to minimize the risk factors associated with all heart conditions. Choosing to not smoke and to eat healthfully are two lifestyle factors that carry easy-to-identify solutions – cut out cigarettes and choose healthy food options. However, other strategies such as stress and blood pressure management can be more difficult to implement.
Regular exercise can have tremendous positive influences on cardiovascular health which is supported by mountains of research. Increasingly now, a growing body of research also points toward massage therapy as another great option for improving heart health.
How Can Massage Help My Heart?
A recent study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that for patients with congestive heart failure, back massage was an effective treatment in lowering anxiety levels and increasing oxygen saturation. The results interestingly pointed to better outcomes in men for anxiety reduction and lowered systolic blood pressure with the massage intervention.
A more recent study in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine found that massage could achieve lowered values for heart rate, blood pressure and inflammatory markers when performed on a regular basis. This study looked at the relationship between massage and patients diagnosed with high blood pressure, and also found that relaxing for an hour each week could produce similar results.
Another study published in the same journal took a look at massage therapy was an effective intervention, even more effective than relaxation without massage, in lowering blood pressure in pre-hypertensive women. Moreover, the resulting lowered blood pressure readings persisted for 3 days after the massage intervention in the study group. Not only were there immediate improvements, but the decrease in both systolic and diastolic numbers remained well after the massage was over!
Precautions to Consider
Please note that not every type of massage is meant for every patient with heart disease. If you have a diagnosed heart condition, your best bet is to consult first with your general practitioner or cardiologist on the merits of massage given your condition. Should you both determine massage would be beneficial, be sure to discuss your condition AND any medications you may be taking with your massage therapist prior to beginning your session. Blood thinning medications can increase bruising especially with deep tissue massage techniques and medications that lower blood pressure when coupled with the relaxing effects of massage can lower blood pressure to an unsafe level. Furthermore, areas of the body with active blood clots should not be massaged. Making sure your massage therapist is familiar with your specific condition, the medications you are taking, and their potential side-affects will allow the massage therapist to accommodate your needs to make your massage experience a positive one.
Erynne Hill, MS, ATC, HHP
Director of Massage & Wellness