We all know that bodywork such as massage and myofascial release helps to alleviate stress, but now we are learning that bodywork can potentially play a role in aging process. In 2009, Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of the protective function of telomeres on chromosomes.
This team of researchers discovered protective “caps” on the ends of chromosomes, called telomeres. Each time a chromosome is replicated a small section of telomeres sequence is lost and eventually when telomere become critically short the cell can no longer replicate fully. Researchers determined that the length of telomeres can be utilized as a reliable measure of cell’s biological age. The older we get the shorter and less active our telomeres become. Most profoundly, a decreased telomeres activity was directly correlated with elevated stress hormone cortisol and epinephrine. These stress hormones are meant to serve us short term, to give us enough energy to cope with a perceived threat, but too often we experience prolonged periods of stress. This can negatively impact our cellular longevity.
- high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms
- heart attack, stroke
- insomnia, depression, anxiety
- suppressed immune function
- obesity and other eating disorders
- menstrual problems
- skin and hair problems, such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema, and permanent hair loss
- gastrointestinal problems, such as GERD, gastritis, ulcerative colitis, and irritable colon
But, there is hope!
Researchers also learned that hormones such as estrogen and growth hormone IGF-1 increase telomeres activity. The key is that these hormones are activated during parasympathetic nervous system response, a “rest and digest” state. This is where bodywork comes into play. Many studies have been conducted on the effects of massage on the stress hormone cortisol (fight or flight hormone) showing a decrease in cortisol hormone levels after massage application. We know that bodywork can lower cortisol levels and bring the body out of “fight or flight” response and into “rest and digest”. If so, can bodywork potentially extend the life span of telomeres and slow down aging?
More research is yet to be done, but we know for certain that long term stress is harmful for our health. Myofascial release therapy, cupping therapy, yoga and other related preventative heath practices help decrease cortisol levels and keep us in the “rest and digest” for longer periods of time.