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.
One 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.
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 touch in 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.