A new study involving couples shows that massages can lower blood pressure and tension, particularly among husbands.

The study by Brigham Young University psychology professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad adds to growing evidence of how social relationships play a role in physical health. The findings will be published Oct. 14 in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

“This is something that can have a positive impact on couples’ health at no cost and without medication,” Holt-Lunstad said.

Thirty-four married couples participated in the four-week study. At the beginning, all participants wore portable blood pressure monitors, mostly concealed by their clothes, for 24 hours. One group of couples was randomly assigned to an intervention class that promoted emotional and physical closeness. Three times a week, these couples gave each other 30-minute massages on the neck, shoulders and forehead.

The other group went about their lives as normal. Four weeks later, all couples again wore the portable monitors for an entire day. Couples in the massage intervention saw declines in the stress hormone alpha amylase. The husbands’ blood pressure had significantly declined from the level recorded four weeks earlier.

For both men and women, the massages produced higher levels of oxytocin, a hormone that counteracts stress.

C. Sue Carter, a behavioral neurobiologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told USA Today that conducting this kind of research outside the laboratory is important. Carter was not involved in the study.

“The nice thing about this study is that it lets people live in their own world and see effects of their own social interactions without the complexities,” Carter said.

One of the co-authors of the study, Wendy Birmingham, worked on the project as an undergraduate student at BYU. Birmingham is now pursuing a Ph.D. in social psychology with an emphasis in behavioral medicine at the University of Utah. Kathleen Light of the University of Utah School of Medicine is also a co-author.

Writer: Brady Toone