Isn’t it wonderful when someone you care for gently strokes your arm or pets your head after a long, stressful day? Even when we’re exhausted, the simple act of touching a loved one in a non-sexual way makes us feel calm and safe. There’s amazing healing power in touch, and science confirms that just touching someone can be great for the body as well.
Physical and psychological benefits of touch
Lower heart rates, blood pressure, stress-reduction, and expedited recovery time from illnesses are just a few of the incredible side effects of touch. A professor at the University of Maryland School of medicine by the name of Dr. James Lynch has studied the benefits of touch extensively. He notes that “Physical contact [has] very dramatic effects upon psychological health. It lowers blood pressure and relaxes you.”
From before we are born, our mother’s touch affects us via her heartbeat. We are programmed by physical touch from early on. For example, when a baby is looking for reassurance, a loving pat on the back from mom or dad reassures them, letting them know that everything’s okay. An urgent tug tells a child to hurry up when crossing the street. Holding your loved one’s hand when out for a walk creates an immediate feeling of stability and affection. Touch allows for non-verbal expressions of love, compassion, and care.
As adults in romantic relationships, we may encounter pressure from society’s expectations when it comes to defining a “healthy” relationship. Films and TV shows make it seem as though we ought to be constantly ripping each other’s clothes off, “doing it” multiple times a day. As most of us know, this is unrealistic, and there needs to be a balance of sexual and non-sexual touch contact for any relationship to be truly healthy. Gifts and romantic text messages are great, but there’s nothing like soothing, physical contact. Putting your arm around someone or patting them lovingly on the arm can pay dividends, including increased sexual intimacy at a later time.
Science backs it up
Simply stroking someone’s hand or arm creates a calm, relaxed vibe. Our bodies have unique nerve endings known as C-tactile fibers, which generate feelings of well-being and calm. They’re located on our legs, arms, forehead, and back, which explains why petting these areas feels so nurturing. Studies have shown that gentle touch immediately calms us down, slows the heart rate, and alleviates stress and pain. DePauw University psychologist Matthew Hertenstein has conducted studies proving that touch can transmit many emotions, including gratitude, joy, sympathy, and love.
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Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, linked massage to numerous health benefits, such as improved sociability in infants, better sleep, and less irritability. Another benefit was improved growth rates for babies who were born prematurely. The field also says that “when you stimulate the pressure receptors in the skin, you lower stress hormones; warm touch stimulates the release of the “cuddle hormone,” oxytocin, which enhances a sense of trust and attachment.”
Doctors recommend it
Even medical doctors agree that touching has amazing physical benefits. Individuals who receive regular non-sexual touch have lower cortisol and blood pressure levels. Gentle touching and massage can improve immunity, improving overall health, and even lowering the occurrence of infections and colds. A western doctor once told me that hugging someone every day decreases the risk for heart disease. I love to hug and be hugged, so this was great information to receive!
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Even if you don’t like to be touched, try to be more open-minded about physical contact with others. Doctors also suggest that people who live alone get a pet so that they may experience the healing benefits of touch with a cat or dog. After a breakup a few years back, I adopted a cat and my physician said having her around was an amazing de-stressor.
It’s good to touch and be touched
Touch is good for the “goose and the gander” as the expression goes. As it turns out, research confirms that touching and being touched both present health benefits that are physical and psychological. When you hang out with your cat or dog and pet them, your blood pressure lowers and you immediately feel calmer. Meanwhile, your pet feels relaxed and loved when receiving this affectionate contact from you.
The same thing applies to humans—we are more relaxed and happy when touching or being touched. I always feel incredibly calm when I pet or massage my partner after a long day; the proof is in the pudding!
In these hectic and overwhelming times, we don’t have to feel lonely or cut-off in our daily lives. Make more eye contact when running errands, hug a friend, and gently pet a loved one on the head for just a few minutes. You’ll give and receive the many benefits of non-sexual touch, and have a much better day.