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10 minutes of massage or rest will help your body fight stress

You don’t need a professional treatment in order to relax. Having somebody gently stroke your shoulders, or even just resting your head on the table for ten minutes, is an effective way to boost your body’s physiological engine of relaxation.

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Allowing yourself a few minutes of downtime significantly boosts mental and physical relaxation. Research by psychologists at the University of Konstanz observed higher levels of psychological and physiological relaxation in people after only ten minutes of receiving a massage. Even ten minutes of simple rest increased relaxation, albeit to a lesser degree than massage.

The findings provide the first indication that short-term treatments can robustly reduce stress on a psychological and physiological level by boosting the body’s principal engine for relaxation – the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).

Stress is known to have negative consequences for health and disease. However, our bodies have an inbuilt regenerative system, the PNS, to ward off stress during times of threat. Launching a relaxation response is thus key to protecting our health and restoring balance in our body. Massage has been used to improve relaxation, yet no systematic approach exists to robustly confirm its effect on the PNS and whether or not this could be used as rehabilitation for patients suffering from stress-related disease.

Boosting the body’s engine for relaxation

This study indicates that massage is an easy-to-apply intervention that can boost the body’s principal engine for relaxation – the PNS – and also lead to a reduction in perceived mental stress. The discovery that massage is effective on the level of both psychology and physiology via the PNS will pave the way for future studies on understanding the role of relaxation on stress.

“To get a better handle on the negative effects of stress, we need to understand its opposite – relaxation,” says Jens Pruessner, head of the Neuropsychology lab and Professor at the Cluster of Excellence “Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour” at the University of Konstanz. “Relaxation therapies show great promise as a holistic way to treat stress, but more systematic scientific appraisal of these methods is needed.”

Standardised testing approach

Researchers from the Department of Psychology in Konstanz developed a standardised approach for testing if tactile stimulation could improve mental and physical relaxation. They applied two different ten-minute massages on human subjects in the laboratory to test: A head-and-neck massage was designed to actively stimulate the PNS by applying moderate pressure on the vagal nerve, which is the largest nerve running to the PNS. Then a neck-and-shoulder massage with soft stroking movements was designed to examine whether just touch can also be relaxing. Finally, a control group of participants sitting quietly at a table was tested for the effect of rest without tactile stimulation.

Physiological relaxation was gauged by monitoring the heart rate of participants and measuring heart rate variability (HRV), which indicates how flexibly the PNS can respond to changes in the environment. The higher the HRV, the more relaxed is the body. Psychological relaxation was gauged by asking participants to describe how relaxed or stressed they feel.

Ten minutes of resting or receiving either massage resulted in psychological and physiological reduction in stress. All participants reported that they felt more relaxed, and less stressed, compared with before the treatments. Further, all participants showed significant increases in heart rate variability, which demonstrates that the PNS was activated and the body physiologically relaxed just by resting alone. The physiological effect was more pronounced when participants received a massage. It was, however, not important whether the massage was soft or moderate – tactile contact in general seemed to improve the relaxation of the body.

Small moments with big impact

“We are very encouraged by the findings that short periods of dis-engagement are enough to relax not just the mind but also the body,” says Maria Meier, a doctoral student in the lab of Neuropsychology and first author on the study. “You don’t need a professional treatment in order to relax. Having somebody gently stroke your shoulders, or even just resting your head on the table for ten minutes, is an effective way to boost your body’s physiological engine of relaxation.”

By developing a standardized method for robustly testing and validating relaxation therapies, the study allows further experiments to test the effects of additional relaxation interventions that could be used in prevention or rehabilitation programs for people suffering from stress-related diseases such as depression.

Standardized massage interventions as protocols for the induction of psychophysiological relaxation in the laboratory: A block randomized control trial” by M. Meier, E. Unternaehrer, S.J. Dimitroff, A. Benz, U.U. Bentele, S.M. Schorpp, M. Wenzel, and J.C. Pruessner appeared in Scientific Reports.

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Acetaminophen reduces sepsis patients’ risk of having organ injury

Intravenous acetaminophen was safe for all the sepsis patients, with no difference in liver injury, low blood pressure, or other adverse events compared to the placebo group. Among secondary outcomes, they also found that organ injury was significantly lower in the acetaminophen group, as was the rate of acute respiratory distress syndrome onset within seven days of hospital admission.

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Intravenous acetaminophen reduced sepsis patients’ risk of having organ injury or developing acute respiratory distress syndrome, a serious condition that allows fluid to leak into the lungs.

This is according to a study, “Phase 2b Randomized Trial of Acetaminophen for Prevention and Treatment of Organ Dysfunction in Critically Ill Sepsis Patients”, that appeared in JAMA.

As FYI: Sepsis is the body’s uncontrolled and extreme response to an infection. In sepsis, red blood cells become injured and die at abnormally high rates, releasing so called “cell-free hemoglobin” into the blood. The body becomes overwhelmed and can’t remove this excess hemoglobin which can lead to organ damage.

While the trial did not improve mortality rates in all patients with sepsis regardless of severity, the researchers found that acetaminophen gave the greatest benefit to the patients most at risk for organ damage. With the therapy, those patients needed less assisted ventilation and experienced a slight, though statistically insignificant, decrease in mortality.

To test the therapeutic potential of acetaminophen more fully in a mid-stage clinical trial, researchers enrolled 447 adults with sepsis and respiratory or circulatory organ dysfunction at 40 US academic hospitals from October 2021 to April 2023.

Patients were randomized to receive either acetaminophen or a placebo intravenously every six hours for five days. The researchers then followed the patients for 28 days to see how they fared. They also completed a special analysis using data only from the patients with levels of cell-free hemoglobin above a certain threshold. The team’s primary interest overall was the number of patients who were able to stay alive with no organ support, such as mechanical ventilation or kidney failure treatment.

Scientists note that identifying high levels of cell-free hemoglobin as a biomarker that could be tested when patients are first admitted to the hospital would be a breakthrough, because it could help quickly determine which patients with sepsis might benefit from acetaminophen therapy.

The researchers found that intravenous acetaminophen was safe for all the sepsis patients, with no difference in liver injury, low blood pressure, or other adverse events compared to the placebo group. Among secondary outcomes, they also found that organ injury was significantly lower in the acetaminophen group, as was the rate of acute respiratory distress syndrome onset within seven days of hospital admission.

When looking more closely at the patients with higher cell-free hemoglobin, the researchers found that just 8% of patients in the acetaminophen group needed assisted ventilation compared to 23% of patients in the placebo group. And after 28 days, 12% of patients in the acetaminophen group had died, compared to 21% in the placebo group, though this finding was not statistically significant.

“While the anticipated effects of acetaminophen therapy were not realized for all sepsis patients, this study shows that it still holds promise for the most critically ill” said James Kiley. “Though, more research is needed to uncover the mechanisms and validate these results.”

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Extreme heat associated with children’s asthma hospital visits

Daytime heat waves were significantly associated with 19 percent higher odds of children’s asthma hospital visits, and longer duration of heat waves doubled the odds of hospital visits. They did not observe any associations for nighttime heat waves.

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For children seeking care at urban pediatric health centers, extreme heat events were associated with increased asthma hospital visits.

This is according to research published at the ATS 2024 International Conference.  

“We found that both daily high heat events and extreme temperatures that lasted several days increased the risk of asthma hospital visits,” said corresponding author Morgan Ye, MPH, research data analyst, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine. “Understanding the impacts of climate-sensitive events such as extreme heat on a vulnerable population is the key to reducing the burden of disease due to climate change.”

For this study, Ye and colleagues looked at 2017-2020 electronic health records from the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, which included data on asthma hospital visits by patients of the hospital, some of whom are from Benioff Oakland’s Federally Qualified Health Center, and demographics including patients’ zip codes. They used data from the PRISM Climate Group of Oregon State University to determine the timing of daily maximum (daytime heat waves) and minimum (nighttime heat waves) for each zip code. The researchers restricted their analyses to the region’s warm season (June to September). To evaluate the potential range of effects of different heat wave measurements, they used 18 different heat wave definitions, including the 99th, 97.5th and 95th percentile of the total distribution of the study period for one, two or three days.

They designed the study in a way that allowed them to determine the association between each heat wave definition and a hospital visit. They repeated the analysis for Bay Area and Central California zip codes.

The team discovered that daytime heat waves were significantly associated with 19 percent higher odds of children’s asthma hospital visits, and longer duration of heat waves doubled the odds of hospital visits. They did not observe any associations for nighttime heat waves. 

According to Ye, “We continue to see global temperatures rise due to human-generated climate change, and we can expect a rise in health-related issues as we observe longer, more frequent and severe heat waves. Our research suggests that higher temperatures and increased duration of these high heat days are associated with increased risk of hospital visits due to asthma. Children and families with lower adaptation capacity will experience most of the burden. Therefore, it is important to obtain a better understanding of these heat-associated health risks and susceptible populations for future surveillance and targeted interventions.”

The authors note that past research has suggested positive associations between extreme heat and asthma, but findings regarding hospitalizations and emergency room visits have been conflicting. Additionally, many other studies have focused on respiratory hospitalizations and not hospitalizations for asthma, specifically, and have not included or had a focus on children. This study is also unique because it investigated the effect of daily high temperatures but also the effects of persistent extreme temperatures.

This study demonstrates that even milder extreme heat temperatures may significantly impact health. These effects are more pronounced in climate-susceptible populations, including children and those who are medically vulnerable, such as those served by the urban pediatric health center in this study. The authors hope these study results will lead to more equitable health outcomes and reduce racial/ethnic disparities observed in climate-sensitive events.

“These results can be used to inform targeted actions and resources for vulnerable children and alleviate health-related stress during heat waves,” they conclude.

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Pru Life UK employees participate in annual blood donation drive with Philippine Red Cross

The life insurer also advocates health and safety protection, especially for families in need. In partnership with the Philippine Red Cross, Pru Life UK employees are engaged in blood donation drives, contributing to a safe and quality blood supply for the Filipino community.

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Pru Life UK’s commitment to supporting communities goes beyond financial education and inclusion. The life insurer also advocates health and safety protection, especially for families in need. In partnership with the Philippine Red Cross, Pru Life UK employees are engaged in blood donation drives, contributing to a safe and quality blood supply for the Filipino community.

The blood donation drive has been an integral part of Pru Life UK’s community investment programs since 2016. To date, close to 500 bags of life-saving blood have been donated by PRU employees and agents. Sustainability Changemakers, Pru Life UK’s volunteerism program, engages its people to take part in supporting communities in need.

“My younger brother needed to get immediate surgery during pandemic. Imagine the feeling of being helpless with hospitals saying no to my brother’s surgery. People experience this most of the time, so I want to help even with the simple gesture of donating blood. Since then, I’ve donated four times through Pru Life UK’s employee blood donation initiative. More than just donating, bloodletting reminds me of how fragile life is and that we should take care of our health in any way we can.” PRULifer Jonel Yulas shared following the company’s recent blood donation drive.

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