3 Reasons Why Sharing Touch is Essential to Your Health
With affordable health care at the center of so many debates these days, I’m always surprised at how little of what’s being discussed actually has to do with health, or for that matter, care.
Actually it’s really no wonder that the cost of our health care is exorbitant, considering how many fancy technological gadgets and complex pharmaceuticals are essential to what we consider “health care”. Add the many middlemen and women of the health care industry to the equation and you have a recipe for a decidedly unaffordable and unsustainable approach to health.
So here’s a proposal for an extremely affordable and easily sustained long-term health care plan with no middlemen involved:
More Touch, More Often!
And here are three reasons why sharing touch is so essential to your health:
1. Less Stress, More Pleasure
Your skin is your body’s largest organ, and when its sensory receptors are stimulated, two essential hormones are directly affected.
The hormone oxytocin, also known as the “Love Hormone” and largely associated with feelings of pleasure, is released, and cortisol, a steroid hormone that’s associated with stress, is reduced.
Many studies have shown that increased levels of oxytocin will help you to reduce anxiety, but a fascinating study by Jason Yee of the University of Illinois at Chicago has shown that increased levels of oxytocin when coupled with social contact actually leads to a significantly faster recovery from stress. Yes, these days you can pop an oxytocin pill and I would never underemphasize the benefits of self-touch, but sharing touch with others is the apparently the most effective way to go.
Cortisol is not so much an antagonist in this scenario as a victim of our abuse. It’s actually an important hormone for healthy functioning and is associated with stress because it’s secreted in higher levels when your body is experiencing a “fight or flight” response. In the right proportion it actually helps you respond to stress by giving you a quick burst of energy, temporarily heightening your memory functions or lowering your sensitivity to pain.
The problem is that we’re so addicted to stress in our culture, so dependent on the quick rushes that we get from increased cortisol, that your body’s relaxation response never has a chance to be activated long enough for your system to balance out and return to normal. And without the relaxation response to neutralize the negative effects of stress, you end up with the problems that high cortisol levels have been accused of causing – weight gain, adrenal fatigue, and a compromised immune system.
It’s unlikely that you can completely avoid all stress, but you can definitely activate this relaxation response quickly and at absolutely no cost. All you have to do is share a tender touch: a hug, a pat to the back, a kiss to the cheek, holding hands…
If you’re in the NYC area and wanting to improve your tender touching skills, you can still claim one of a few remaining spots in my upcoming Art of Healing Touch: Couples Bodywork Workshopon Sunday, Feb 15.
If you’re not in the neighborhood, check out this video I made for about.com by clicking here or on the pic above.
2. Better Immune System and Faster Recovery
Because cortisol can act as an immune suppressant, reduced cortisol already translates into an improved immune system. But touch also helps to boost your immunity by improving circulation and increasing your white blood cell count, which translates into more resistance to viruses and other pathogens and less tendency for inflammation and autoimmune diseases.
The touch in question doesn’t always have to be fancy, just caring – according to a 2004 study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, all it took was 10 minutes of sharing a love seat with a partner for pre-menopausal women to have lowered blood pressure, and when they got lots of hugs on top of that, they also showed reduced heart rates.
Next time you feel yourself starting to get under the weather, consider asking for a good cuddle before running to the pharmacy for a pill.
3. Better Relationships and a Longer, Happier Life
In case the connection between healthy, happy relationships and a healthy, happy body isn’t immediately clear, consider that there are dozens of studies out there that show that not only do people with satisfying relationships tend to experience more health, they’re also happier and live longer.
At least one of the reasons is that people in satisfying relationships experience more frequent tender touch, and not just from a primary partner – children, parents, friends, colleagues and pets are all excellent partners for sharing tender touch.
For couples, making a point of touching each other more often has been shown to contribute to more happiness and better quality relationships. For example, a 2011 Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction study that polled more than 1,000 men and their female partners in five countries about the power of touch, found the more men hugged and kissed, the happier they considered their relationships.
The many opportunities for contact that intimate relationships provide us tend to make us more trusting, empathetic and even charitable, and again, the boosting of oxytocin in the body that comes with contact is what scientists are pointing to as the reason. But whether this theory holds or future research will discover an array of other relevant factors, the main point remains that when you touch more, you access a whole other level of intelligence and connection that in the very least makes your life better, and potentially also longer. And isn’t a better, longer life what we long for when we long for health?
Touch, like diet and exercise, is a long-term health strategy – not something you do once in a while and hope to see a quick improvement, but a practice that you integrate into your lifestyle and make a priority on a daily basis.