QUESTION

ANSWER

Since diabetes runs in my family, I try to eat healthy and exercise and watch my weight so I don’t get it, too. Are there any other—hopefully, easy-to-do!—things that will help?

You might want to make massage, especially after a workout, a regular part of your life.

While not proven to prevent diabetes, even a 10-minute massage leads to physiological changes that may be protective, according to recent research. A mini-massage may even help reduce insulin resistance, a key driver of diabetes.

MASSAGING YOUR MUSCLES TO FIGHT DISEASE

Researchers were interested in studying massage immediately after exercise for two reasons. For one thing, practically speaking, that’s a common time for people to get a massage, since many people say that massage helps reduce muscle soreness from exercise. Another reason is that, biologically, it’s easier to measure differences in the effect of massage on cells after exercise because exercise puts the body into a state of temporary stress.

Volunteers in the study included 11 healthy, active men in their 20s who provided a bit of muscle tissue from one thigh for a baseline biopsy. Then researchers had the volunteers do 70 minutes of fast-paced cycling on a stationary bike. The volunteers rested for 10 minutes and then had a 10-minute massage on one thigh only. Immediately after the massage, researchers took second muscle biopsies, but this time from both thighs in order to compare massaged tissue versus nonmassaged tissue. Two and a half hours after the second biopsies, the volunteers underwent a third set of biopsies on both thighs to capture any changes that might have occurred a bit later after their massages.

STOP THE DAMAGE!

Researchers found two very interesting differences in the muscles that had been massaged…

A gene pathway that causes muscle inflammation was “dialed down” in these muscles both immediately after the massage and 2.5 hours after the massage. (Specific genes can be present in our tissues but not always active.) Dr. Tarnopolsky said that this is helpful knowledge because muscle inflammation is a contributor to delayed-onset muscle soreness, so it confirms biologically what we’ve always believed through anecdotal observation—a post-exercise massage can help relieve muscle soreness. Inflammation also contributes to the development of diabetes.

Conversely, another sort of gene was “turned on” by the massage—this is a gene that increases the activity of mitochondria in muscle cells. You probably know that mitochondria are considered the “power packs” of our muscles for their role in creating usable energy. Better mitochondrial functioning has been shown by other studies to help decrease insulin resistance (a key risk factor for type 2 diabetes) and obesity and even to slow aging. And “mitochondrial dysfunction” is now being recognized as a potential contributor to diabetes.

Is it a stretch to link post-exercise massage to these benefits? They were not specifically studied, but since the question is posed, my reply is that it’s not unreasonable—there is a potential connection, and future research will need to be done to confirm it. One thing is clear: Stress, especially the way our minds react to stress, is increasingly being recognized as a diabetes risk. Anything you can do to break the stress cycle is a healthy thing.

TREAT YOURSELF TO MASSAGE

The massage type that the researchers used was a standard combination of three techniques that are commonly used for post-exercise massage—effleurage (light stroking)…petrissage (firm compression and release)…and stripping (repeated longitudinal strokes). It’s easy to find massage therapists in spas, salons, fitness centers and private practices who use these techniques. Or you could ask your spouse or a friend to try some of these moves on you. Even if his or her technique isn’t perfect, there’s a chance that it could still provide the benefits.

Massage after exercise was studied, but it’s possible that massaging any muscles at any time may have similar benefits—more research will need to be done to find out.

Remember, you don’t have to break the bank on a prolonged 60-minute massage—a simple 10- or 20-minute rubdown (which usually costs $10 to $40) can do the trick.