Written by Camille Scott (Remedial Massage Therapist)
Touch = Health
When you think of touch you might not immediately associate it with your health and wellbeing, but physical contact is one of the most important parts of cultivating health and a sense of well-being. Most of us will have some kind of contact with someone during the day, whether it is hugging a family member or shaking a colleague’s hand but in the western world our touch interactions are becoming fewer and far between.
Of course, some of us grew up in households where physical connection was not really a done thing but there are many other reasons now for the drop off in physical connection in today’s society.
Social media and constant access to devices has certainly had an effect…Tiffany Field, head of the Touch Research Institute at the University Of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, observed interactions between people at airports and found rather than sitting with or leaning on each other and socialising like we might have seen 20 years ago, everyone was on their phones. Phones have become an armour for some of us and a distraction for others but in both cases, they do prevent real life connection.
Then there are the no touch policies that are making their way into many different areas of society like schools, medicine or aged care facilities and while they do serve a purpose trying to keep us safe from unwanted touch it does mean that all touch is off the table, whether it’s a hug from a friend or a Foster carer comforting a child in their care.
All this and then COVID too!
So how does touch affect our health?
Many studies have outlined the benefits we miss out on by experiencing less touch and those effects are evident from as early as infancy. Infants born prematurely who received just three 15-minute sessions of touch therapy and massage over the course of 5-10 days gained 47% more weight than those that only received standard medical treatment.
Similarly, it has been observed in understaffed orphanages, where staff were unable to provide babies with daily touch interactions, that large percentages of the orphans did not hit height or weight milestone targets and had a tendency to show developmental and behavioural problems.
We can also observe in the older population who tend to become more isolated and experience fewer touch interactions that levels of loneliness and depression increase which can lead to an earlier death. Lack of touch has also been shown to make it more likely that a person will experience increased anxiety, aggression and mood disorders.
So now that we know what can happen when we miss out, lets look at what benefits we can receive when we do experience touch.
Touch activates the vagus nerve, with its far-reaching effect on the systems in the body, particularly the parasympathetic nervous system which switches off our stress response (our fight or flight system). It also activates the brain’s orbitofrontal cortex which links to feelings of reward and compassion as well as calming down cardiovascular stress.
Science even tells us now that a simple 20 second hug is enough to release oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin, our ‘feel good’ hormones and mood improvers.
Massage specific touch increases our natural killer cells which are our front-line defense within the immune system. While a quick pat on the back has shown to have a profound difference on how generous and co-operative someone can be (see Robert Kurzban’s ‘prisoners game study’ if you’re curious).
You can begin to see how profound even the smallest touch can be and how we are wired for it!
If you have been feeling a bit touch starved during these tough COVID times below is a list of the best ways to top up your touch interactions:
1.Massage! This is self-explanatory really…this kind of prolonged, nurturing touch has so many benefits that you just cannot pass it by.
2. Spend time with animals, hugging your dog can boost those feel good hormones. Don’t have any pets? Volunteer at a local shelter or rescue and increase your karma points with some lonely animals.
3. Get your nails done, book yourself in for a manicure and/or pedicure and enjoy someone nurturing your hands and feet.
4. Treat yourself to a hair wash and blow-dry, it can just be at your local salon but make sure they include a scalp massage during the wash!
5. Sit close to your loved ones rather than at opposite ends of the couch, If they are open to it, lean on them while you’re watching a movie or rest your feet on their lap.
6. Let your children be close to you, introduce them to positive touch like rubbing their back or feet or invest in a short course to learn infant massage to really connect with your newborn.
7. Hug your friends and family hello (with consent of course!) and greet colleagues with a handshake.
8. Hire a professional cuddler. Yes, it’s a real thing! Professional huggers offer catered sessions to help those that would otherwise be touch starved.
And finally, for the truly solitary…
9. Practice Yoga or power walking, studies have even shown that just by moving your own limbs against each other you will see some benefits.
If you’re feeling well overdue for your next massage session, bookings with Camille can be made via In Symmetry Romsey Wellness Centre on (03) 54293610 or follow the link below: