Part 1: Dr. Michael Olpin Interview – Massage Chair Research (Video)

October 25, 2016
 By Allison Bricker
October 25, 2016
 By Allison Bricker

Part 1: Dr. Michael Olpin Interview – Massage Chair Research (Video)

Transcript of Video Titled “Part 1: Dr. Michael Olpin Interview – Massage Chair Research”

Weber State University LogoDr. Alan Weidner: Hi, I’m Dr. Alan Weidner from ‘‘ and today I’ve got a very, very special guest with me, and his name’s Dr. Michael Olpin, and Mike and I will be talking about a number of things from more of an academic perspective. But I’m going to give you a little bit of a bio on Michael here, or Dr. Olpin, I’m sorry, I’m used to calling you Michael now, or Mike, but I guess I can call you Dr. Olpin …

Dr. Michael Olpin: Mike’s great.

Alan: Even though it sounds weird. Well, Dr. Olpin is a full professor of health promotion at Weber State University, that’s here in Utah. He has studied and researched the science of stress management for over 30 years. He received his Ph.D. in health education from Southern Illinois University, with his dissertation focusing on the stress response in college students. College students don’t have stress, do they? I can’t even comprehend that. He earned his MA in health promotion, and his BA in psychological organization from Brigham Young University. He’s taught at several universities across the nation, including West Virginia University, Virginia Tech, Concord University, Southern Illinois University, Brigham Young University, and Weber State University. And I might just add, that’s quite hard to believe you’ve done all that, when you look so doggone young, but I’ll also mention here that Mike is the author of three texts. Your most recent one is this one called “Unwind!” and this one was written in conjunction with the FranklinCovey Institute, and I don’t know if people are familiar with FranklinCovey. I’m sure they are, if they’ve ever been involved in any kind of personal, life, or time management. Franklin – it used to be called FranklinQuest, now FranklinCovey, in partnership with Stephen Covey, and his work – but this is your new book called “Unwind!” And then also you have a book called “The World is Not a Stressful Place: Stress Relief for Everyone,” Dr. Michael Olpin, Ph.D., and then the one that intrigued me the most when I saw this, is the “Stress Management for Life,” class curriculum. So, you’ve actually written this textbook, and it is a thick thing, and I’m pretty impressed with the format, the layout, and of course, all the information in it. But Michael has written a textbook college courses, and from what I understand, Mike, this text, you told me, is used in number of colleges and universities around the country. Is that correct?

Michael: As far as we know right now, it’s being used at – I don’t know how many exactly – but enough to say that it’s out there all over the world.

Alan: Well, that’s pretty amazing, and quite well accomplished, and I might also mention that you’re a pretty humble dude, considering all these accomplishments. When I read your bio, I was kind of amazed at all the things that you’ve done, and you also have a website:, and of course, you’ve produced CDs and DVDs, MP3s, videos, and whatnot, all related to stress reduction and relaxation training. And of course, I might also mention that you’re married, and you’ve got four kids, and you’re a very athletic fellow. As a matter of fact, every time I see you, and even today, you’re in some kind of sporty outfit, sweats, or something like that. As a matter of fact, I think one of the times we met, I thought you’d just come back from working out, but no, that’s just how you dress. Anyway, it’s sure good to have you here, Michael, thanks for making the time to visit with me today.

Michael: Oh, it’s my pleasure.

Alan: And I’m excited about this call, and in a moment, everybody will understand why I’m excited about this. Now, as you know, I’m kind of an expert on massage chairs, but Michael is an expert on stress reduction, and kind of life management skills, and I might add that this is a real nice blend when you think about it, because chairs – a lot of people buy massage chairs for stress relief – and of course, you’re in a stress reduction industry. Well, what I’ll do is relay a little bit about how you and I came to meet, and why we are even having this discussion today. I think it was maybe four or five years ago, wasn’t it, Michael, that you bought a massage chair from us?

Michael: Yeah, mm-hmm.

Alan: For your Stress Clinic there at Weber State. This is up in Ogden, Utah, and you’d already had one there before, but you bought your second one from us, and then over the last four or five years, you bought two more. So, now you’ve got for massage chairs in your Stress Clinic, and of course, I didn’t really fully get what you were doing with them. I just knew that you had a relaxation center. I figured that was just where kids came, and laid down, and stretched, and you know, relaxed, but of course, now I understand the scientist that you are, and the researcher that you are, I appreciate the fact that maybe there’s a little bit more going on than just sitting in massage chairs, and turning them on and off for these students, and faculty, and staff. Well, one of the – my son and I, my son Rob and I, came down a few weeks ago to help you move your massage chairs to a different floor on your building there, because you were moving your Stress Clinic, or Stress Center – and then I did mention that you are the head of the Stress Center there at Weber State.

Michael: Yeah.

Alan: Did I call it right? Was it the Stress Center? Or the …

Michael: We call it the Stress Relief Center.

Alan: Stress Relief Center, yes, and you’re the founder and director of that Stress Relief Center, and so you had called us to help you move these chairs to the new floor, and so my son and I came over there a couple weeks ago to help you move those. That’s something that we do for our local customers anyway, and you took us up on that. Well, in the course of our conversation, while we were moving the chairs, you had mentioned to me that you had been collecting data on all the people that had been sitting in these chairs, and I was a little taken aback by this, because I had, I’d always – well, anyway, I’ll get to that in a minute – but you had mentioned that you guys take the pre and post systolic and diastolic blood-pressure measurements, pulse measurements, and some subjective stress measurements. And I was so shocked by this, because I’d never even put two and two together that you have a Stress Center, you’re a Ph.D., maybe perhaps they’re doing some kind of data harvesting, and it never even occurred to me that you’d be doing this. And when you mentioned this to me, a light just clicked on in my head, because research is something that’s always interested me, coming from you know, a health-care background …

Michael: Yeah.

Alan: And loving research, and studying research. Well, this led to a conversation between you and I, where maybe we could start doing some research projects, or at least taking the data that you’ve accumulated over the last four or five years, and taking a look at it. Well, you had mentioned to me that the data was significant. In other words, the numbers pre and post were significant enough that it was remarkable, and so that really got my juices flowing, and then Michael and I met a week later, for lunch, to talk about the idea of working on some other projects. But what I wanted to focus on today was talking to Michael about the findings of this research study, I’m just fascinated by it. So, maybe Michael, what I’ll do is turn the time over to you then to maybe elaborate a little bit on what you’ve been doing, in your clinic as a whole, not just with the massage chairs, but maybe in your Center as a whole, and then how the research comes in to play, and what you’ve found, what the results of your research have been.

Michael: Sure, I’m happy to do that. It’s an exciting thing that we have going on here. As you accurately said, the college environment is one of really high stress. As a matter of fact, recent data on the concerns that students have, or the problems that students have related to their academic performance, and stress, every single year, has been the number one concern, the number one challenge, more so than pretty much any other like sickness, or drug use, or alcohol use, or anything else. Stress is far and away number one, and anxiety is number two, I mean, and sleeping problems is number three. Stress is just – and so, I thought, well, we have plenty of people here doing stuff on nutrition, we’ve got an excellent exercise science program here, but nobody was doing anything about stress, and if it’s number one for the biggest concern, I’d like to do something about it, and since I had a bit of background with it – l thought, let’s put together a place where people could come, and while they’re here, let’s immerse them in activities that will create a reduction of stress. And back when we started this, we didn’t really know, I mean, I had a few ideas – my research focused quite a bit on things like mediation, and yoga, and you know, different cognitive things that people could do – but when we decided to put a Stress Relief Center together, we really didn’t have – it’s kind of hard to have somebody come in and teach them how to meditate right away, and we thought ‘Well, wouldn’t a massage chair be a great idea?’ And so, that was one of the first things we did, was we purchased a massage chair. Back then, that was quite an old one. I mean, as far as today’s standards, that was a really old one, but we realized that was a favorite of the people who came in, and so as we started to expand, I purchased one of your chairs, and immediately, it became the favorite of the Stress Relief Center. It was just clearly the go-to item of all the different things that we have, and we have quite a few things in here now, but like you said, we’ve purchased some more of your chairs, and we have about 3 or 4, somewhere between 3 or 4000 students who come to our Stress Relief Center per year …

Alan: Wow.

Michael: And …

Alan: Does a large percentage of them sit on the chairs? Is that …

Michael: And yeah, as you accurately said, we test them right off the bat for heartrate, blood pressure, and perceived stress levels, on a scale from 0 to 10, how stressed are they, 10 being excruciating, 0 being bliss, and then they have the choice of doing something in here, and 85% of the people who come in here use one of the massage chairs. So, that’s probably somewhere in the neighborhood of about 2500 people who use your chairs.

Alan: Per year?

Michael: Per year, mm-hmm.

Alan: Wow.

Michael: We have – it’s pretty funny, the lineup, when like middle of the day, there will be people who want to get on, and there will be a lineup, and they’ll have – it’s kind of like Baskin Robbins, where you have to take a number, and wait your turn, until you can get your ice cream. They, that’s the case with these chairs, they’re in such high demand.

Alan: Yeah.

Michael: And so, we tested them, you know, we have to do that here. We kind of have to collect data just because it is an academic setting, and nobody seems to mind really, and what we have found, you know, is on the average, we decrease a person’s heartrate – or I should say, by them sitting in the chairs – and usually the average amount that they’re in there is about 20 minutes, on the average. And it will decrease their perceived stress level, from pre to post, by going from about a 7, on a scale from 0 to 10, to about a 3.5, which is phenomenal …

Alan: Yeah.

Michael: In a 20-minute period, somebody going from just really high stress to ‘Oh, I’m doing pretty good,’ on an average.

Alan: Right.

Michael: The resting heartrate, it’s varied, but if we take the average over the four or five years that we’ve been doing them, the resting heartrate, in a 20-minute period, averages about seven or eight beats-per-minute drop.

Alan: Wow.

Michael: Which is just astounding, I mean, that is just, you can’t do anything else, without, you know, besides chemically, and create that much of a difference in somebody’s resting heartrate, you just can’t. You have somebody just sitting there, and trying – you know, reading, or watching TV, the heartrate does not come down like that, and so – and like you said, when we ran the statistics on these, it was statistically significant, indicating it couldn’t have happened by chance.

Alan: Got that.

Michael: It was because of the application of the chairs. The systolic and diastolic blood-pressure measurements both came down significantly, and that’s even harder. I mean, you can’t – you can kind of, ‘Well, I’ll deep breathe,’ and it might affect your heartrate a little bit – but the blood-pressure piece, that’s just another astounding finding that people’s blood pressure is coming down so significantly, simply by 20 minutes sitting in the chair. And so, we’re excited about – I mean, that’s phenomenal information that kind of nobody knows about, and it was because – you know, I don’t think it’s ever been done …

Alan: Right.

Michael: To have a study that looks at the effects of a massage chair. We know that if you a massage, or yoga, or meditation, there’s plenty of good research to show that those things seems to work, but not massage chairs.

Alan: Right.

Michael: And I think that’s what’s exciting about where you plan to go with this, and I’m absolutely thrilled to be a part of it. It is, let’s get some papers done, let’s get some published research, let’s spread the word in a scientific way …

Alan: Yeah.

Michael: Because anecdotally, it’s easy to say ‘Well, yeah, massage chairs make me feel better.’

Alan: Right.

Michael: Definitely, but to have a database of 12,000 people, and I don’t think that’s anywhere ever been even remotely …

Alan: No.

Michael: Done, and so it’s exciting to see that we can give evidence for this particular stress-management modality. And …

Alan: Well, it’s interesting that when you say ‘anecdotally,’ to me, that just means sales pitch.

Michael: Mm-hmm.

Alan: For the massage chair industry, it’s an infantile enough industry that research studies have not really been done on anything that I’m aware of, and so to be able to have this kind of data on such a wide sample – I mean, are you telling me like 12,000, 10 to 12,000 people – that’s just amazing, and that’s never been done, let alone a small sample size of 100 maybe, or 500.

Michael: Yeah.

Alan: So, I think this is phenomenal, but what it’ll do is – like I’m a massage chair guy, I’m a massage chair salesman, if you will, as well as a doctor, who has that, kind of that academic perspective, but there’s not much – I mean, we educate, on our videos about how to use massage chairs, and comparisons, and whatnot, but as far as the real stuff that you’re doing, this has not been done before. And so, I’m very, very excited about what you’ve done, and what you’re doing without even realizing that you were doing it.

Michael: Yeah.

Alan: Now, tell me, I just have a question for you about the – oh, well, anyway, where I was going with that last comment was – how nice it’ll be to tell people ‘Well, hey, you know what, massage chairs really do decrease blood pressure.’

Michael: Yeah.

Alan: There have been studies on massage, and maybe other modalities that are maybe in the same ballpark as a massage chair that have borne these things out, but never, like you mentioned, never have we actually tested these things on a massage chair to back up the sales pitch.

Michael: Right.

Alan: Well, now, how wonderful will it be to be able to say ‘Yes, these things actually do decrease blood pressure, or decrease heartrate, or decrease stress,’ because we’ve actually measured it, this is legit, this is objective data. Now, you had mentioned, and I don’t remember exactly the full context of this discussion, but when we had lunch you had mentioned that you had shown the data to somebody, somebody that’s, you know – because you were kind of looking at this data, thinking ‘Oh, that’s pretty cool, lower blood pressure, lower pulse’ – but you didn’t realize the significance of the statistics. But you had shared that with somebody else, and tell me what became of that discussion.

Michael: Yeah, that’s a great story. We’re not, we’re more in the – in our program, it’s called health promotion, is the program I’m in – and we’re not real, you know, statisticians, we don’t, we know what works, and we try to teach those things. We don’t get in to the science of it too much. We just trust that other people are doing the science, but the people in the psychology department, that’s their field. You know, they have to do – measurement is the altar on which they base all of their truth, with a small t, and so we took this to – one of my students had a good relationship with one of the psychology professors here, who is quite a statistician, and understood statistics, and the way to assess things in really scientific ways. And he took one look at this, I mean, he ran the numbers …

Alan: Mm-hmm.

Michael: And they didn’t separate out anything. It was considering all of the modalities that we have, all the different methods of – or the toys that we have in the Stress Relief Center – but we’re still looking at 85% of the things, 85% of the visits were for the massage chairs, so we can pretty much say ‘Yeah, this applies almost entirely to the massage chairs.’

Alan: Mm-hmm.

Michael: But he looked at it, and he said, essentially, if this were a drug, you’d become billionaires selling this drug, because of the absolute certainty that this is what’s causing that outcome, that it’s not anything else, it couldn’t have happened by chance. I mean, it was so strictly applied, this data analysis, that you can’t leave anything to question. There’s nothing left to question, but what’s happening in our place is creating those outcomes, and they were just floored by how amazing it was. And I think the interesting thing that might be good for your viewers to be aware of with our university, with Weber State, it’s kind of a different school in that, you know, the typical school, the population, the typical university is the 18 to 22-year-olds; at Weber State, the average age is 26. The median age for Weber State University, as a campus of about 26,000 students, is 26.

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