Professionals who interact with people daily are vulnerable to airborne bacteria and viruses every time they go to work. Due to the increased likelihood of pathogen communicability in school-age children, anyone in elementary education can attest to the overwhelming amount of time spent recovering from a cold or flu. Fortunately, schoolteachers have the luxury of paid sick days as one of their benefits. Because of the physically intimate nature of their work, massage therapists are especially prone to bacterial and viral exposure. An unfortunate result of most bodyworkers being self-employed, the lack of benefits translates into a financial loss each time a sick day must be taken. On top of the loss of productivity and misery accompanying being sick, it is in a massage therapist’s best monetary interest to stay healthy.
Often counseling their own clients on making healthy lifestyle changes, a majority of massage therapists are aware of how important it is to support the immune system. By eliminating factors that can weaken the body’s ability to deflect illness, a person’s immune system has more strength to defeat the hundreds of daily pathogens it encounters. According to Lauriann Greene, author of Save Your Hands, staying healthy as a massage therapist requires four basic commitments:
- Paying rigorous attention to your body
- Adopting a positive attitude
- Living a healthy lifestyle
- Using a technique that is not harmful to your body
Maintaining optimal conditions for your immune system to work its best, paying attention to your body and living a healthy lifestyle ranks highest among efforts to deflect illness. In addition to getting adequate nutrition and sleep, four commonly overlooked ways bodyworkers can achieve this goal include:
1. Cleanliness – The easiest way to help the immune system combat the daily onslaught of microorganisms it encounters is to reduce the quantity it must defeat. Since restricting access to clients with a sniffle is not always realistic, the next best choice for minimizing germ contact is to remove as many pathogens as possible from the environment. Changing linens between clients, periodically cleaning doorknobs and having tissues available for those who need them all contribute to removing potential infectious agents. In addition to these approaches, frequent hand washing is the best defense against microscopic germs. Especially important before and after each client, frequent hand washing not only protects the therapist, but also prevents spreading germs to subsequent clients.
2. Exercise Breaks – Massage therapists know the value that circulation plays in maintaining health. Whether accomplished through movement or massage, the circulation of blood, energy and lymphatic fluid prevent pathogens from accumulating and overpowering the immune system. A realistic way to maintain free flowing circulation is to exercise and stretch throughout the day. Since high levels of stress wear down the immune system, the natural stress relief resulting from movement can increase a person’s resistance to illness. People are amazed at how much of an impact squeezing in a couple of 5-10 minute walks has on their overall health and stress levels.
3. Optimize Digestive Health– Most healthcare advocates agree that the heart of immunity lies in the digestive system. In addition to good nutrition, supplementing with beneficial bacteria helps ward off infection. Taking probiotics can help maintain a preponderance of good gut bacteria over the bad gut bacteria. These beneficial bacteria aid in:
- Immune system development
- Protection against over-growth of other microorganisms that could cause disease
- The digestion of food and absorption of nutrients
- Waste elimination
In fact, a study published in the February 2008 edition of the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that in athletes, supplementing with probiotic supplements reduced the number and length of infections.
4. Reduce Immune System Drag – The more toxins your body must process and eliminate, the less attention it can focus on pathogen defense. This becomes obvious after a night of drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, when it is much easier to come down with a cold or flu. However, toxicity from many sources can be a factor in weakening immunity. In addition to alcohol, any kind of drug, processed and artificial foods, cuisine high in saturated fat, cigarettes, toxic fumes or other types of chemicals can put a drag on your body’s ability to purify. There are several ways to reduce this toxicity burden:
- Pay close attention to what you eat and drink, being sure to eliminate obviously toxic items
- Periodically cleanse your body with a detoxification fast or supplement formulated for detoxification
- Drink plenty of water to decrease the concentration of poisons and enhance their elimination
- Especially after indulging in toxic fare, supplement with a high quality milk thistle to protect your liver cells from the damage excessive poisons inflict
Regardless of the reasons, nobody likes putting life on hold by staying in bed with an illness. Getting the most out of our bacteria- and virus-filled world requires a commitment to immune health. As professionals invested in natural healthcare who have close, physical contact with the public, this is especially important for massage therapists. In addition to the abundance of healthy lifestyle choices that better enable a person to deflect pathogens, those in-the-know can take advantage of specific approaches to immune strengthening. By emphasizing cleanliness, scheduling movement into each day, consuming probiotics and reducing toxic drag on the immune system, therapists have a better chance of deflecting the germs clients bring into their practice. With this stronger immune system, bodyworkers will spend less time canceling appointments and more time building and thriving in their chosen profession.
Cox, AJ, et al., Oral administration of the probiotic Lactobacillus fermentum VRI-003 and mucosal immunity in endurance athletes, British Journal of Sports Medicine, February 2008.
http://articles.mercola.com, Probiotics Protect Top Athletes, Dr. Joseph Mercola, 2008.
http://coldflu.about.com, Tips for Staying Healthy at Work, Kristina Duda, RN, About.com, 2008.
https://healthlibrary.epnet.com, Immune Support, EBSCO Publishing, 2008.
www.massagemag.com, Helping the Healers, Lauriann Greene, Massage Magazine, July/August 2000.