It’s common sense that a hug at a stressful time, a handshake after an important meeting or just cuddling at the end of the day help us relax, leaving behind negativity and worry. Now researchers are investigating whether this feel-good energy has an impact on our well-being. Are there health benefits to touch?
When we experience friendly, affectionate touch, our bodies release oxytocin, which is sometimes called the love hormone. Oxytocin’s effects include lowering blood pressure, decreasing the stress-related hormone cortisol and increasing pain tolerance. It is released through friendly touch, including contact between breastfeeding moms and their babies, cuddling couples and even pets and their owners.
The Wonder of Human Touch
The human hand has a particularly refined sense of touch. According to Smithsonian magazine, researchers found that our hand can detect a dot just three microns high. (A human hair has a diameter of 50 to 100 microns.) However, by “using a texture rather than a dot, the researchers found the hand can detect roughness just 75 nanometers high”—a nanometer being one thousandth of a micron! Such remarkable sensitivity is attributed to about 2,000 touch receptors in each fingertip.
Our sense of touch also plays a key role in our health and well-being. “The caress of another person releases hormones that can ease pain and clear the mind,” says U.S.News & World Report. Some believe that when a child is deprived of the loving touch of others, its growth will be impeded.
Looking for your daily oxytocin boost? Try the tips below:
Cuddle. You don’t have to talk or gaze deeply into someone’s eyes, but you can cuddle with your partner, child or pet.
Hug hello (and goodbye for that matter). Greet friends and family with a quick embrace to maximize touching your day.
Find Fido. Touch doesn’t have to be person to person. Use your down time to groom or pet your dog or let your cat nap in your lap as you make phone calls.
Jump in bed. Having more sex will increase your touch time, and time spent between the sheets can positively impact your relationship, too.
Schedule a massage. Penciling in a session with a trusted therapist will leave you relaxed and refreshed.
Try a solo massage. Using lotion or massage oil, relieve neck, arm, leg and scalp tension using the tips of your fingers to massage in a circular motion. Self-massage tools, such as canes (to massage your back) or kneading tools can help with hard-to-reach spots or tough knots.
Get classy. Yoga and Pilates classes offer hands-on adjustments from qualified instructors that can help strengthen your core and provide a dose of touch.
Hold hands. Don’t wait for someone to initiate it—go for it yourself! This simple gesture can bring the spark back to a long-time relationship, add some sizzle to a new one, and even show someone special (your child, parent, grandparent, sibling or best friend) that you care.
Get a pedicure. Snag a snazzy new nail color and a serving of healthy touch.
Pat someone on the back. Congratulate friends and co-workers on their accomplishments with a celebratory pat on the back.
From reducing blood pressure to flooding us with positive emotions, touch is an easy add-in to your day that can have powerful health benefits. With a little thought, you’ll find countless ways to touch the lives of others through this meaningful form of connection.