Nothing beats a good massage when it comes to beating back the stresses of life--but those relaxing sessions beneath a powerful set of hands can do more than just help you unwind.

In fact, a new study finds that deep-tissue massage can actually boost your immune system in measurable ways.

In what must have been a great personal sacrifice in the name of science, 53 volunteers were randomly assigned to one of two different types of massage: Twenty-nine were given a 45-minute deep-tissue massage, while the remaining 24 got light massages.

All of the participants were hooked up to IV catheters for blood samples immediately before and after their massage sessions.

And, as it turned out, those who were given the deep tissue massage had very real and definable changes--changes that could be measured in their bodily fluids. For example, these volunteers had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva and blood.

They also had lower levels of arginine vasopressin, the hormone that can boost cortisol production and lead to aggressive behavior.

But we didn't need a study to prove that a relaxing massage is, well, relaxing... so the real surprise came when researchers discovered an unusual change in the "before" and "after" blood samples: a boost in the white blood cells that indicate an immune system response.

And that means massage could actually help the body fight illness and disease, especially those linked to inflammation.

Not bad for 45 minutes of rest and relaxation.

But while the benefits were most noticeable in the deep tissue massage group, the volunteers who were given the lighter touch also enjoyed a few perks--including an increase in oxytocin, the so-called "hugging hormone" responsible for feelings of contentment and love, according to the study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

That's already enough to justify any trip to the massage table... but the benefits don't end there.

Massage therapy has been used to ease anxiety, stress and depression for generations--and not just in adults. One study found that depressed children experience lower stress levels and better sleep after a 30-minute massage.

For chronic back pain sufferers, massage therapy has been found to improve function and movement and reduce pain, and limit the need for painkillers.

Another recent study found that massage can reduce both pain and depression in pregnant women.

Somewhere in there is the perfect excuse for your own massage session... now don't be afraid to use it.