Massage therapy’s ability to reduce stress is well proven. New research indicates how we react to stress during our everyday lives—not the stressful events themselves—predict our future health.

Using a subset of people who are participating in the Midlife in the United States study, a national longitudinal study of health and well being that is funded by the National Institute on Aging, researchers from Penn State investigated the relationships among stressful events in daily life, people’s reactions to those events and their health and well being 10 years later.

The team found that people who become upset by daily stressors and continue to dwell on them after they have passed were more likely to suffer from chronic health problems—especially pain, such as that related to arthritis, and cardiovascular issues—10 years later, according to a Penn State press release.

Specifically, the researchers surveyed by phone 2,000 individuals every night for eight consecutive nights regarding what had happened to them in the previous 24 hours. They asked the participants questions about:

• Their use of time

• Their moods

• The physical health symptoms they had felt

• Their productivity

• The stressful events they had experienced, such as being stuck in traffic, having an argument with somebody, or taking care of a sick child.

The researchers also collected saliva samples from the 2,000 individuals at four different times on four of those eight days, according to the press release. From the saliva, they were able to determine amounts of the stress hormone, cortisol. They then linked the information they collected to data from the larger MIDUS study, including the participants’ demographic information, their chronic health conditions, their personalities and their social networks.

“Our research shows that how you react to what happens in your life today predicts your chronic health conditions and 10 years in the future, independent of your current health and your future stress,” said David Almeida, professor of human development and family studies. “For example, if you have a lot of work to do today and you are really grumpy because of it, then you are more likely to suffer negative health consequences 10 years from now than someone who also has a lot of work to do today, but doesn’t let it bother her.”

I like to think of people as being one of two types,” Almeida said. “With Velcro people, when a stressor happens it sticks to them; they get really upset and, by the end of the day, they are still grumpy and fuming. With Teflon people, when stressors happen to them they slide right off. It’s the Velcro people who end up suffering health consequences down the road.”

The National Institutes of Health provided funding for this research.

Related articles:

• Research Shows Massage Therapy Relaxes the Autonomic Nervous System

• Stress Shrinks the Brain

• Massage Boosts Mood, Immune Function and Relaxation

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