For many people, physical touch is synonymous with sexual touch which is not necessarily the case. Non-sexual physical touch is a powerful means of communication and is crucial for both mental and physical health. The power of physical touch in different relationships cannot be underestimated especially for men for whom courtesy of patriarchy, physical touch is often limited to sexual contact, violent encounters or during sports. Here are all the ways it’s beneficial.
Therapies that incorporate physical touch like massage and acupuncture promote healing. Massage therapy in pregnant women helps ease the symptoms of prenatal depression. One possible reason massage promotes healing is because it increases natural killer cells which boost the immune system. These cells kill viruses and bacteria, so the more the better for the immune system. These healing benefits were found among people with HIV and breast cancer.
Less violence and aggression
When there is more physical touch in childhood, the children are less aggressive and violent. One researcher observing children at a playground with their parents noted higher incidences of physical and verbal aggression among the touch-deprived kids. Other animal and human studies corroborate these findings. Cultures that have low amounts of physical affection toward their young children have significant amounts of adult violence.
Touch improves communication. It improves communication not just among people you’re familiar with but even with strangers. People are able to accurately interpret what is communicated through different types of touch. It also gives more depth to words, adding warmth, and sincerity to your interaction.
Touch has been found to reduce stress, heart rate, and blood pressure. It calms the nervous system and slows down the heartbeat. It also lowers cortisol which is the stress hormone. In women, elevated cortisol levels impede working memory and compromise the immune system’s resiliency. Studies found that the brain quiets in response to stress when a person’s hand is held. The effect is greatest when you’re held by a loved one but it works even when it’s a stranger holding your hand. Getting hugged by a loved one before a stressful activity like giving a speech can lead to better performance.
Touching also causes the body to release oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin which are feel-good chemicals. This is why physical touch can lead to a happier, closer relationship.
Nurtures growth and development
Touch is essential for babies to thrive. Premature babies who are touched gain more weight than those who are not touched but still receive standard medical care and nutrition. In a study, infants who were touched by their mothers had more advanced visual motor skills and more advanced gross motor development. Children who were touch deprived in a study of orphans in Romania were half their expected height and weight.
It’s interesting that touch is not only beneficial to the person receiving but also to the person giving. One study involving elderly people and babies found that the positive effects were far greater when they massaged the babies than when they were massaged. This means massage therapists also benefit from the interaction.
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