Benefits Of Massage For Weight Loss
Millions of people around the world are trying to melt away their extra pounds once and for all. In their search for the simplest, fastest, and most enjoyable ways to get rid of excess fat, they run into flashy and quirky options – from juice cleanses to one-product diets. Oftentimes these options turn out to be quite unsustainable and even harmful to their health. Massage for weight loss is one of the current trends widely being promoted and shared on social media. It is said you can flatten that fatty belly just by relaxing on a massage table. Is this actually true? Should you go ahead and get a massage to help lose weight? Read this article to hopefully clarify all the true benefits of massage for weight loss, as well as the limits of its effectiveness.
What is massage?
Although massage has been around since early civilization, there are many people who don’t think it’s anything more than a luxury treatment at a resort or a critical care method for intensive care situations. While it’s true that certain cultures around the world know it as common as going to a coffee shop, others in the world aren’t familiar with it at all. Massage is a term encompassing practices of pressing, rubbing, kneading, and manipulating your skin, muscles, tendons and ligaments (11).
During a massage session, the therapist gently or strongly presses your muscles and joints to release tension and pain, and relax your body and soul. You may have thought massage was only a fairly recent invention that gained popularity in Western societies. In reality, the history of massage traces back to the ancient Egyptian and Chinese civilizations (2). The first mention of codified massage was in a Chinese text, published in 2700 BCE. It is a book called «The Yellow Emperor’s classic book of internal medicine».
In what is now called the West, massage appears in Roman writings, particularly of Galen, the famous physician. Much later, in the 1800s, Per Henrik Ling, a Swedish doctor, educator, and gymnast, developed a series of massage techniques, which formed the basis of the Swedish massage which is mentioned later in this article. Through the years massage has become more and more popular, descending from the status of luxury entertainment to the popular health-related practice. Scientific research has been proliferating the exploration of the effects of massage on health simultaneously.
Benefits of massage
The immediate effect from a massage is a feeling of relaxation and reduction of pain. This happens because massage triggers the release of endorphins – the brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) that boost pleasure and produce the feeling of wellbeing (10).
Levels of stress hormones, such as adrenalin, cortisol, and norepinephrine, are also significantly reduced after a massage session.
- decreased muscle tension and soreness
- improved circulation
- stimulation of the lymphatic system
- decreased stress
- increased joint mobility and flexibility
- reduction of back pain
- improved skin tone
- improved recovery of soft tissue injuries
- heightened mental alertness
- reduced anxiety and depression
As you can clearly see, there is no «weight loss» benefit in this list. Does this mean that benefits of full body massage for weight loss are insignificant and you shouldn’t consider massage a tool for weight loss? Not exactly.
In fact, a number of studies do connect massages to weight loss.
Benefits of massage for weight loss
First of all, massage can make your weight loss journey a more positive endeavor. Massage decreases the level of stress and boosts endorphins, putting you in a good mood which is needed to stick to your diet and training (6). And this is not simply an effect on your mood: stress is a major factor of weight gain. Just thinking about a stressful future event triggers the release of ghrelin – the hunger hormone – driving you to eat more (4).
Secondly, and more tangibly, massage decreases muscle soreness. An absence of pain is a prerequisite for any workout session. If you experience horrible pain, you can’t perform the exercises. Massage keeps your muscles tuned up, eliminates the tension before it progresses into an injury, and reduces the delayed onset muscle soreness.
One of the most important factors contributing to the effectiveness of your weight loss efforts is your metabolism. Can massage improve metabolism? According to a study (7) full body massage increases blood circulation and flow. This could help clear toxic wastes out and improve metabolism.
In general, massage can assist the weight loss process. However, it won’t cause significant changes without alterations in your diet and physical activity. Here are some types of massage most helpful for weight loss goals.
What kind of massage is best for weight loss?
Swedish massage is perhaps the most widespread technique today. It has become so deeply entrenched into the history and practice of massage that it is sometimes called classical.
It was invented by a Swedish fencing instructor Per Henrik Ling in the 1830s (12). When he was injured in the elbows, he reportedly cured himself using tapping (percussion) strokes around the affected part of his body. Later he developed the whole technique nowadays called Swedish massage. The practice of Swedish massage was brought to the U.S. from Sweden by two brothers, Dr. Charles and Dr. George Taylor in the 1850s.
The aim of this technique is to loosen up you physically and mentally through the relief of muscle soreness. It can relax the tightness in muscles caused by usual daily activities such as sitting in your office or vigorously training. The Swedish massage can be most beneficial for people having problems in the areas of their lower back, neck, and shoulders. It might be helpful for weight loss as well (9).
This gentle form of massage uses long strokes, kneading, deep circular movements, and passive joint movements to help you relax and restore your energy levels. Swedish massage stimulates nerve endings, increases blood flow, and lymph drainage.
A traditional Swedish massage is full body. You will start on either your stomach or your back, and then flip over in the middle of the session. If you have an area you’re concerned the most about, tell your massage therapist to concentrate more on this part of the body. You can also select the light, medium, or strong force of pressure.
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Essentially, aromatherapy massage is Swedish massage therapy using massage oil or lotion that contains essential oils (highly concentrated plant oils) (3). These essential oils are made of the extracts of flowers, fruits, leaves, barks, and seed.
While being massaged, you inhale these essential oil molecules or absorb them through your skin. These essential oils are thought to promote positive changes in your body and mental state by affecting the limbic system, a region in your brain involved in emotion.
The widespread essential oils have various properties. Camomile, lavender, and geranium oil are calming. Eucalyptus, pine, and tea tree oil are decongesting, rosemary oil is energizing. Ylang-ylang, clary sage, rose, and neroli oil have uplifting effects.
People regularly visiting aromatherapy sessions often report better sleep and reduction of muscle pain.
One study found that an hour of aromatherapy massage with grapefruit oil, cypress, and other oils for 6 weeks helped significantly reduce abdominal fat and waist circumference compared to the same massage regimen with non-aromatic grapeseed oil (8). Aromatherapy massage can also help lower levels of stress and alleviate depression (13). This, in turn, can reduce the widespread desire to binge eat (5).
How to yield most benefits from your massage
It seems pretty simple to be massaged – just lay down and listen to the therapist. But every session can turn out better or worse, and here are some recommendations for you to get the most from each and every massage you get (1).
Especially when the therapist is working out an especially bad knot, it might be tempting to tense up a little bit and hold your breath. Never do that, or you may miss out on one of the main benefits of that rubdown. Breathing fully and deeply when difficult areas are being worked on is seen as essential so as to oxygenate your blood supply and aid tense muscles.
Train before, not after the massage
If you’ve scheduled massage and workout sessions on the same day, the training should come first. This way, you can nicely warm up your muscles for the massage. By contrast, working out immediately after a massage is a bad idea as you are likely to stress and strain the muscles that were just relaxed. Besides, opting for a training after massage puts you under a higher risk of getting an injury, as well as losing motivation because massage makes you too relaxed. It is best to wait 12 to 24 hours before working out to allow for healing time from the massage you received.
No meals right before the session
Massage definitely stimulates digestion, so a full-blown dinner right before your session is a no-go. You might have a light snack right before the massage, and a whole meal a few hours before the session. Obviously, you shouldn’t starve yourself as you might fill dizzy and light-headed during the session. However, eating lightly one to two hours beforehand will allow the food to be digested while not making you feel uncomfortably full.
Telling your massage therapist to do «more of this», or «less of that» might seem incorrect, but that’s exactly what they want you to do. Actually, the worst thing you can do is say, “I just want a good massage”. Don’t shy away from telling your therapist if something he is doing is uncomfortable, the pressure is not right, or if you’ve got a question about what he is doing right now. Be sure to ask them to spend more time on a certain area if that is what you came for—at the end of the session would be too late, and this is what you are paying for after all.
Strong pain = something wrong
You should not feel much pain during your session. There might be slight pain in stretching or having tight or tensed muscles worked on, but relaxation is absolutely crucial. If too much force is provided, the muscle tightens up more and creates even more pain, possibly bruising and damaging the muscle. So, don’t be afraid to tell the therapist if it’s painful or you risk screwing up all the benefits of massage for weight loss.
To sum up, massage can’t be considered a major contributor to your weight loss plan. Nevertheless, you can perceive it as a non-essential but somewhat helpful element. Benefits of massage for weight loss are not so immense, but regular sessions can accompany your healthy diet and vigorous training, bringing closer the day you achieve your weight loss goal. Check up this 20 Min Full Body Workout at Home challenge!
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 14 Things Your Massage Therapist Wants You To Know (2017, womenshealthmag.com)
- A Brief History of Massage Therapy (2019, northwestcareercollege.edu)
- Aromatherapy Massage Benefits and Precautions (2020, verywellmind.com)
- A Surprising Reason You May Be Eating More (2013, womenshealthmag.com)
- Association of major depression and binge eating disorder with weight loss in a clinical setting (2007, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Can Massage Therapy Really Help You Lose Weight? (2017, womenshealthmag.com)
- Comparison of blood flow changes with soft tissue mobilization and massage therapy (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effect of aromatherapy massage on abdominal fat and body image in post-menopausal women (2007, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- How to Use Massage for Weight Loss (2020, verywellfit.com)
- Massage (n.d., betterhealth.vic.gov.au)
- Massage: Get in touch with its many benefits (2018, mayoclinic.org)
- Swedish Massage (2020, encyclopedia.com)
- The Effectiveness of Aromatherapy for Depressive Symptoms: A Systematic Review (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)