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Health & Wellness Articles  ›  Mind & Body

The Healing Power of Touch

How Physical Contact Improves Your Health

-- By Robin Donovan, Health Writer
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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.
 
A 2006 study even showed that women experienced less pain from an expected, mild shock when they were allowed to hold a stranger's hand—and they experienced the least pain from the shock when holding a partner's hand.
 
The Benefits of Bodywork
Studies suggest a number of ways touch can help us stay healthy. Massage, for example, has been shown to lower blood pressure, slow heart rate and even help premature babies gain weight. Although the mechanism by which massage helps isn't perfectly understood, researchers are beginning to pinpoint conditions it helps, including knee pain caused by osteoarthritis, low-back pain and neck pain.
 
By increasing the amount of touch, massage harnesses the health-promoting effects of oxytocin, along with reducing anxiety and promoting a general sense of well-being. And massage after a tough workout can help prevent stiffness and soreness the next day.
 
Adding Touch to Your Day
Without thinking about it, some people can go hours, days or even weeks without any physical contact in their lives. Adding touch to your day is a simple way to harness its health-maximizing effects of less stress, pain management and a healthier body and mind.
 
Remember that touch doesn't only have to mean being touched; giving touch in healthy ways, from a hug to a handshake to a pat on the back, benefits you—and the person on the receiving end. And you don't have to be in a relationship to do it. Even a quick touch like a high-five (for those friends who hate to hug) can be beneficial.

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About The Author

Robin Donovan Robin Donovan
Robin Donovan is a Cincinnati-based freelance writer and magazine journalist with experience covering health, medicine, science, business, technology and design.

Member Comments

  • I believe vitamin H (hugs) can heal a lot of things. One thing I've found they don't heal is smiling, it justs make smiling worse (for most people). My husband's company is small (eight employees) and if I go into the office with him you can see the smiles begin because most of the guys say "alright, we get our vitamin H today". The one's that don't feel comfortable (which are only two) just smile and say "good morning, hope you have a good day" and stand in the doorway instead of coming into the office I use. You have to take a que from other people as to how they feel about hugging, being alert to reactions from watching the others get a hug is a good indicator of how another person feels about hugs. I desensitize them with a pat on the shoulder, a hand on their arm for a moment, or some other small touch, it may be as small as a few extra words and soon they are inside the office and smiling even though they may not be huggable yet. - 12/13/2013 11:44:58 AM
  • Thanks for sharing - 6/20/2013 6:36:09 AM
  • I think given someone a hug is great. You don't know what that person have been through for the day and a hug will do them good. And also telling a person you love them is great as well. - 6/18/2013 12:47:43 PM
  • Man, I must be healthy as can be! Every time I sit on the couch (daily), my son jumps on me & starts cuddling and all three of my dogs jump on my lap or snuggle next to me. I often love it, but it can get very confining. Sometimes I need to get up just to get a little break!

    It's also wise to make sure others are OK with touching if you don't know them well. Personal space should be respected. - 6/14/2013 11:25:56 AM
  • Man, I must be healthy as can be! Every time I sit on the couch (daily), my son jumps on me & starts cuddling and all three of my dogs jump on my lap or snuggle next to me. I often love it, but it can get very confining. Sometimes I need to get up just to get a little break!

    It's also wise to make sure others are OK with touching if you don't know them well. Personal space should be respected. - 6/14/2013 11:25:40 AM
  • JENNAAW
    I was raised in a family that did not hug or touch and that has stuck with me. But I sort of envy those who can hug comfortably. - 5/28/2013 7:28:50 AM
  • NSSREENIVASAN
    Yes. I fully agree. Once a while, I hug trees in my garden and I get a good relief and feel energetic. - 5/28/2013 5:05:27 AM
  • What a wonderful article/message.

    I recall reading an article in National Geographic some time ago about an African tribe. When the family is sitting together, every family member is touching other family members -- a leg, arm. There were a series of photos of the families in informal settings, and the family members always maintained physical contact with one another.

    What bonding!

    Would be a great remedy for the isolation that occurs in our society! - 5/27/2013 9:37:57 PM
  • AZURE-SKY
    There are many people who are uncomfortable getting or giving hugs except with family or very close friends. Instead of making them feel better, hugging can make them feel stressful.

    Don't assume (if you're a hugger) that everyone else is.

    - 5/27/2013 5:25:48 PM
  • I agree! We live in a touch-deprived culture, so some turn to food, drugs, alcohol to try and lift the spirit. Exercise and touch are healthy ways to feel great. I do amateur massage and have taught groups how to work on their own neck (in the absence of someone else). It works wonders! Just purchase arnica oil and rub in circles on your neck (lying down in bed without pillow). You would be amazed how much this helps the circulation. - 5/27/2013 5:01:31 PM
  • I have given and gotten "HUGS" my entire life. I am glad that my parents taught me that. Being able to HUG is a very rewarding experience. I loved this article. - 5/27/2013 3:51:09 PM
  • hugs are very good for every one no matter what kind of day they are having - 5/27/2013 10:21:40 AM
  • Everyone needs six hugs a day. I make sure I give and get mine daily. It makes my world go round. - 5/27/2013 7:46:32 AM