Massage therapy has been shown in numerous studies to reduce depression and improve mood.

New, unrelated research indicates how positive emotions help build physical health.

Researchers hypothesized that an “upward-spiral dynamic” reinforces the tie between positive emotions and physical health on an ongoing bases—and that “this spiral is mediated by people’s perceptions of their positive social connections,” noted an abstract on

For this study, participants were randomly assigned to an intervention group that self-generated positive emotions via loving-kindness meditation or to a waiting-list control group.

Participants in the intervention group increased in positive emotions relative to those in the control group, an effect moderated by baseline vagal tone, a proxy index of physical health. Increased positive emotions, in turn, produced increases in vagal tone, an effect mediated by increased perceptions of social connections, the abstract noted.

“This experimental evidence identifies one mechanism—perceptions of social connections—through which positive emotions build physical health, indexed as vagal tone,” the researchers noted. “Results suggest that positive emotions, positive social connections, and physical health influence one another in a self-sustaining upward-spiral dynamic.”

“How Positive Emotions Build Physical Health: Perceived Positive Social Connections Account for the Upward Spiral Between Positive Emotions and Vagal Tone” was published in Psychological Science.