The Health Benefits of Touch

The Health Benefits of Touch

As a result of cultural, religious, familial or overall societal constraints, many of us live in a touch deprived world. Such things as hugging one another or giving a child a reassuring grasp on the shoulder. This is due, in part, to how horrific media stories have practically forced people to become hyper-vigilant.

For adults, a handshake may be acceptable and in some cases even a hug but these are often reserved for those that are acquainted or related. To meet someone for the first time and run your hand along their bare arm or place your palm on their forehead would certainly be met with immediate awkwardness.

Yet, touch is almost just as important as food.

Breaking the barrier of ‘touch phobia’ could be essential to your quality of life. Below are some of the many health benefits of touch.

Hold Hands

It is too bad that adults rarely hold hands.  Children do it all the time without any concern.

According to James Coan, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, it was found in his research that holding hands calmed people down. When participants were exposed to anxiety, holding hands with others significantly reduced stress.

CNN reported that,

“…clasping hands reduces stress-related activity in a brain area called the hypothalamus — which lowers the levels of cortisol coursing through your system — as well as in the part of the brain that registers pain, which actually helps keep you from feeling it as much.” (1/5/11)

A Simple Hug

When two people touch and especially embrace, the brain spurts out a feel-good chemical called oxytocin. This chemical is responsible for reducing the stress hormone cortisol. When cortisol is released it sends the body into survival mode which means weight gain, elevated blood pressure, contracted vessels and nerve firing.

A simple 10 second hug has been linked to enhancing the body’s ability to fight infection, reduce fatigue, and decrease depression.

Renowned psychotherapist Virginia Satir (known as the Mother of Family Therapy) comments on her ‘hug formula’:

“We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”

Get or give a hug and feel the results for yourself.

You Need the Knead

Touch can also be found through the practice of receiving a professional massage.

An amateur massage is okay but it can be fleeting and without vital training. Skillful work offers the potential for a long list of healing as well as preventative results.

The Touch Institute cites many studies proving the health benefits of touch when applied to various conditions via massage therapy.

Some reported study conclusions are as follows:

Anorexia – “The massage group reported lower stress and anxiety levels and had lower cortisol levels following massage…decreased body dissatisfaction…increased dopamine and norepinephrine levels.”

Back Pain – “…less pain, depression, anxiety and sleep disturbance. They [the back pain massage group] also showed improved trunk and pain flexion performance.”

Burn Injuries – “The massage therapy group reported reduced itching, pain, and anxiety and improved mood immediately after the first and last therapy sessions.”

Depression – “The massage therapy subjects reported lower anxiety and depression, and their cortisol levels were lower immediately after the therapy sessions on the first and last days of the study.”

Headaches – “The massage therapy subjects reported fewer distress symptoms, less pain, more headache free days, fewer sleep disturbances, and they showed an increase in serotonin levels.”

Even Babies

There was a time when a baby, prematurely born, was not to be touched for fear of being unable to fight off basic bacteria. Eventually it was found that touching a preemie strengthened their immune system response enabling them to not only fight off infection but to thrive in growth.

A 1988 NY Times article cites various responses of infant response to touch,

“…research suggests that certain brain chemicals released by touch, or others released in its absence, may account for these infants’ failure to thrive.”

“…premature infants who were massaged for 15 minutes three times a day gained weight 47 percent faster than others who were left alone in their incubators.”

“The infants who were massaged were discharged from the hospital an average of six days earlier than premature infants who were not massaged,”

These health benefits of touch are an important reminder of how vital it is for humans to touch one another. The more that is published regarding touch, the more stigmas may disappear enabling more appropriate touch, shattering the touch deprivation we have today.