The Pleasure - and the Power - of Human Touch
By Susan Kleinman, Beautywalk Correspondent
You don't have to be a scientist to know that being touched - by the right person, at the right time, in the right way - feels awfully good.
What scientists do know that you may not, is that human touch can actually improve your mental and physical health, lengthen your life, and even boost your career performance.
At the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami - and in labs and real-life experiments around the world - mounting evidence shows that all of us can benefit from increasing the amount of physical contact we have with friends, lovers, and family - and with professional massage therapists. Here's why:
More Touch Equals Less Stress
A number of studies have confirmed that being massaged, stroked or just held can lower stress levels dramatically. Working in conjunction with Duke University, researchers at the Touch Research Institute have found that after massage therapy, the human body secretes lower levels of the stress hormones cortisol, norepinephrine, and dopamine. These hormones not only make you feel anxious, which can be unpleasant, they can actually cause stress-related diseases - especially heart attack. Reducing their presence through massage, conversely, lowers stress hormones' ill effects.
Stroking Makes You Smarter
In a 1996 study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience, massaged subjects completed math problems in significantly less time - and with a whole lot fewer errors - than test subjects who were not massaged. Even if your math quiz days are far behind you, the brain-boosting benefits of massage can be a boon.
A Body-Rub Can Beef Up Your Bottom Line
That same study showed that massage recipients showed a profound decrease in job anxiety. And the less time you spend fretting in the office the more work you'll get done. Touching others (appropriately!) can be good for your career, as well: University studies of waitresses proved conclusively that those who touched their customers casually on the wrist or shoulder received much bigger tips than those who kept their hands to themselves. Of course, one needs to be careful in this era of sexual harassment suits - but offering a warm handshake at the start and finish of every meeting, even with your boss (or perhaps especially with your boss!) can reap real rewards.
In studies sponsored by the National Institute of Health, medical and nursing students who underwent massage therapy demonstrated an increased immune response in the week before their exams compared to those who did not have treatment. In other words, a massage (or hug) a day can help keep the doctor away.
Massage is Good for Marriage
Preliminary findings of a current study at the Touch Research Institute show that couples who massage each other have lower levels of sexual performance anxiety, and report increased physical intimacy. That's not news to New York-based sex therapist Mildred Witkin, who has long recommended that couples who are anxious about or dissatisfied with their sex lives soap each other up in the shower, and practice touching in a way that is not explicitly sexual to keep intimacy and playfulness alive.
A Touch Gained Means Less Pain
Of course, massage can be helpful in easing muscle spasms and cramps. But did you know that touch can also lessen pain not directly reached by the masseuse's prodding hands? Among the types of aches found to be lessened by massage are PMS and labor pains, arthritis, chronic migraines.
Massage Can Heal Other Hurts, Too
While logic might dictate that victims of rape or sexual abuse would be stressed-out by touch therapy, Touch Research Institute studies are actually showing that massage can help women who have experienced these traumas. Professional touch is also helpful in treating several psychological conditions, including anorexia and bulimia.
'Tis (Sometimes) Better to Give Than to Receive
Before you try to convince that special someone that your health and sanity depend on his massaging you day and night, note that at least one study has shown that giving a massage can sometimes be even more beneficial than receiving one. The experiment assessed the stress levels and self-esteem of senior citizens who received professional massages and of those who massaged infants. Surprise: The massagers showed even greater gains than the massage-ees. That may be partly due to seniors' particularly pronounced need to feel needed - but then again, (as your honey is sure to remind you when it's your turn to give a back-rub for a change) we all need to feel valued and appreciated by those we love.
If you would like to see what health benefits you might derive from bodywork but don't know a massage therapist, ask your physician or friends to recommend one who's licensed to practice in your state. Or, contact the American Massage Therapy Association at (847) 864-0123, or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call your insurance carrier; some health plans now provide reduced rates for certain massage therapy, and have approved lists of providers.
You'd have a massage every day, if you could afford it. But you can't. And you'd love to spend the night conducting your own scientific research on the power of hugs, but your date-book's as bare as the racks at Bloomingdales after a blowout sale.
Fortunately, there are other ways to increase the amount of health-boosting touch you receive each week:
Get Groomed: Manicures, pedicures, and haircuts are all great ways to guarantee yourself a half-hour or so of human contact - and all cost less than a typical massage.
Brush Up: A bath brush or body brush is a wonderful way to stimulate your skin. Loofahs or brushes can help exfoliate, and provide many of the benefits of a rubdown of massage.
Moisturize head-to-toe: Using lotion of every square inch of your body guarantees all that skin will be touched and rubbed. For an added calming effect, use an aromatherapy lotion scented with lavender; for increased alertness, try a rosemary-scented oil.
Say Yes To Yoga: This popular fitness trend offers many of the benefits of touch because the poses involve rubbing limb against limb. Some Iyengar yoga classes also include partnered stretches - a good way to meet your RDA of touching, too.
Take Two To Tango: Dance classes are a great way to meet new people; learn a new, calorie-burning skill - and have your hand and waist held all evening long. Contact your local YMCA or dance studio for schedules.
Susan Kleinman's writing has appeared in Cosmopolitan, New Woman, HealthScout, The New York Times and many other magazines and websites. When it comes to massage, she still thinks that 'tis better to receive.
Discuss this article with others right now at The Salon!
The Health Benefits of Physical Touch
Posted by Margaret Kim
Natural Health Care
A close friend of mine mentioned to me the other day that when she and her husband first married, one of the activities she enjoyed most was having him rub her feet in the evenings while they chatted about their day. She really loved feeling the warmth of his hands and the pressure on her skin, as well as spending the time with him. She enjoyed this activity to the point where, when she’d see him in the evenings, she would clear her throat and wiggle her toes at him as a way of asking for another foot massage.
My friend lamented that, in recent weeks, due to an increase in the busyness in their days, she and her husband haven’t had the time or energy to spend as much leisure time together. As a result, she hasn’t been getting any foot rubs. She stated she’s been feeling a bit grumpy and she thinks part of it has to do with the absence of these regular foot massages.
Perhaps you think this is a silly claim, that the absence of regular touch can have an effect on one’s emotions. However, touch and the social contact with a loved one which accompanies it are an important part of our physical and emotional health.
Consider the following:
- Skin-to-skin contact between mother and infant has been shown to benefit the baby’s physical development and contributes to a positive attachment relationship between the two. The practice of placing a diaper-clad infant skin-to-skin on the mother is so beneficial that it is now an intervention strategy for premature babies in neonatal intensive care units worldwide.
- A group of Korean infants under the care of an orphanage were provided with an extra 15 minutes of stimulation twice a day, 5 days a week, for 4 weeks. The additional stimulation consisted of auditory (female voice), tactile (massage), and visual (eye-to-eye contact). Compared to the infants who only received regular care, the stimulated orphans gained significantly more weight and had larger increases in body length and head circumference after the 4 week intervention period, as well as at 6 months of age. In addition, the stimulated infants had fewer illnesses and clinic visits.
- Gentle touch has been shown to facilitate physical and psychological functioning, particularly in terms of reducing stress, relieving pain, increasing the ability to cope, and general health ratings.
- Participants in a study examining the effectiveness of therapeutic touch as a treatment for managing pain due to fibromyalgia experienced a significant decrease in pain and reported a significant improvement in quality of life.
- The majority of nursing home residents suffering from dementia like Alzheimer’s disease develop behavioural symptoms of dementia, such as restlessness, searching and wandering, tapping and banging, pacing and walking, and vocalization. Current treatment involves drugs, but a recent study showed that intervention consisting of therapeutic touch significantly reduces these behavioural symptoms. Impressive is that the therapeutic touch employed in the study was only provided twice per day, for three days. Each therapeutic intervention lasted only 5-7 minutes.
Understanding Your Partner's Primary Love Language
Browne, J. (2004). Early relationship environments: physiology of skin-to-skin contact for parents and their preterm infants. Clinics In Perinatology, 31(2): 287-98.
Denison, B. (2004). Touch the pain away: new research on therapeutic touch and persons with fibromyalgia syndrome. Holistic Nursing Practice, 18(3): 142-51.
Kim, T., Shin, Y., & White-Traut, R. (2003). Multisensory intervention improves physical growth and illness rates in Korean orphaned newborn infants. Research In Nursing And Health, 26(6): 424-33.
Weze, C., et al. (2005). Evaluation of healing by gentle touch. Public Health, 119(1): 3-10.
Wood, D., Craven, R., & Whitney, J. (2005). The effect of therapeutic touch on behavioral symptoms of persons with dementia. Alternative Therapies In Health And Medicine, 11(1): 66-74.
Touching makes you healthier
By Norine Dworkin-McDaniel, Health.com
January 5, 2011 8:05 a.m. EST
(Health.com) -- Whether it's a squeeze of the hand, a big bear hug, a kneading massage, even a bedroom romp, touch is shaping up to be the ultimate mind-body medicine.
From lowering blood pressure and heart rate to increasing immune function and relieving pain, getting touched or doing some touching makes you healthier -- not to mention happier and less anxious.
How do you tap into these body-boosting benefits? Let us count the ways.
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Get a rubdown
Anyone who's ever gotten a massage -- even a quickie at a mall kiosk -- knows that it helps you unwind. That's not just a mental sensation: Getting massaged causes muscles to unclench, a racing heart rate to slow, heightened blood pressure to fall, and levels of the stress hormone cortisol to drop. In that relaxed state, your body is able to regroup and recharge. One happy result: a more robust immune system.
"Cortisol suppresses the immune response," explains Roberta Lee, MD, vice chair of the Department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. "Anything that increases the relaxation response triggers the restoration of your immune response."
Recently, researchers measured immune function in healthy adults who got either a 45-minute Swedish massage or 45 minutes of lighter touch. The massaged group had substantially more white blood cells -- including natural killer cells, which help the body fight viruses and other pathogens -- and fewer types of inflammatory cytokines associated with autoimmune diseases.
It's too soon to know whether regular massages will, say, keep you from catching a cold, but "it's not an unreasonable speculation," notes lead study author Mark Rapaport, MD, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles.
Health.com: Which massage is best for you?
Hug it out
The act of embracing floods our bodies with oxytocin, a "bonding hormone" that makes people feel secure and trusting toward each other, lowers cortisol levels, and reduces stress. Women who get more hugs from their partners have higher levels of oxytocin and lower blood pressure and heart rates, according to research done at the University of North Carolina.
But a hug from anyone you're close to works, too. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Madison tested that when they analyzed stress levels among volunteers giving a presentation. Afterward, participants who got hugs from their moms saw decreases in cortisol levels an hour after the presentation.
Health.com: Feeling stressed? Try calling mom
Hold hands with your honey
Twining your fingers together with your one-and-only is enormously calming. James Coan, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, discovered this when he administered functional MRIs to 16 married women while telling them they might experience a mild shock.
The resulting anxiety caused the images of their brain activity to light up like Christmas trees. But when the women held hands with one of the experimenters, that stress response subsided -- and when they held hands with their husbands, it really quieted down. "There was a qualitative shift in the number of regions in the brain that just weren't reacting anymore to the threat cue," Coan says.
Even more intriguing: When you're in a happy relationship, 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.
Health.com: 28 days to a healthier relationship
No surprise -- after all, lovemaking involves total-body contact. All that skin-to-skin stroking (not to mention orgasm!) floods us with oxytocin and feel-good endorphins that do wondrous things for our emotional well-being.
Regular sex also does the physical body good, possibly even preventing us from getting sick as often. People who had sex once or twice a week had 30 percent more infection-fighting immunoglobulin A (IgA) in their saliva than those who didn't do the deed as often, according to a study done at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
Not partnered up? Solo sex counts, too: At least one study links masturbation with lower risk of depression.
Health.com: The secret to hotter sex
Cuddle up with your pet
If you're a pet owner, you've no doubt noticed you're less tense when scratching your animal behind the ears. In fact, research shows that people's blood pressure drops when they pet dogs, particularly if it's a dog they know and love. Dog petting has also been shown to improve immune function and ease pain, or at least the perception of it.
"You're focusing on the animal, not on you, so your mind isn't able to ruminate about the pain," explains Brad Lichtenstein, a naturopathic physician and assistant professor in the counseling and health psychology department at Bastyr University in Seattle. (Experts say snuggling with any furry pet should be just as soothing.)
So don't resist when your pet curls up with you -- spending quality time together may be just what the doctor ordered.
Health.com: How my pet helped me heal