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Sign up to the get fit newsletter
Sign up for the ''Get Fit'' Newsletter
  • Tips on managing Stress
  • Ways to stay motivated
  • The benefits of resistance training
  • How to improve your metabolism
  • Learn why "conventional" diets fail
  • How to target stubborn fat areas
  • Healthy and tasty recipes
  • What muscle soreness really means
  • Learn how exercise affects your mood
  • How to choose the right health club
  • Weight loss and diet myths revealed
  • Flexibility, how and when to stretch
  • How to build personal motivation
  • How to conquer procrastination
Email:
Name:
This Month In Health
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  • Pregnancy and COVID
    Along with the elderly and those with chronic illness, pregnant women must take extra precautions when it comes to the COVID-19 virus. Here's what we know so far. Read >>
  • Need a Hug? Yes, You Do
    From birth until old age, physical touch is important. If the past year of distancing and quarantine has you feeling a bit out of sorts, it may be due to a lack of physical contact. Read >>
  • Better Safe Than Sorry
    Do you have any of the following symptoms? Make an appointment to see your doctor. It might be nothing, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Read >>
Health and Fitness News

Need a Hug? Yes, You Do

The importance of physical touch for your good health.

Physical touch plays an important role in your mental and physical health, communication, early development, immune system, and relationships. It’s so important that there’s a special branch of medicine dedicated to studying it: the science of touch.

Whether you realize it or not, from birth until old age, physical touch is important. Sometimes you don’t know how much you need physical touch until you don’t have any. Unfortunately, touch is becoming harder to come by. Our culture’s addiction to phones and computers has lessened the amount of human touch that goes on each day. And the past year of social distancing has only made things worse.

If you’ve been feeling a bit out of sorts, it may be due to a lack of physical contact.

Why Touch Is Important

The vital importance of human touch was first recognized in the 1990s by scientists who examined babies and children in Romanian orphanages who laid in cribs by themselves all day with little human touch. The short- and long-term effects were detrimental to their development. They experienced stunted growth, autistic-like behaviors, and aggression. They also had poor communication skills and a higher risk of illness.

How do such problems arise from a lack of contact? Physical touch lowers the level of the stress hormone cortisol. Read that again. Physically touching someone makes you feel less stressed! Chronic high levels of cortisol contribute to weight gain, anxiety, depression, headaches, heart disease, sleep trouble, and digestive problems. Cortisol decreases the function of the immune system. Physical touch, however, increases the release of cells that boost your immunity.

But wait, there’s more! Touch lowers your heart rate and blood pressure, slows your nervous system, and fights loneliness. It triggers the release of oxytocin, a hormone associated with love and human bonding, and increases the production of the hormones serotonin and dopamine. These are known to improve moods, lessen pain, and fight depression.

In his book The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman identifies physical touch as one way people give and receive love. If your love language is physical touch, then you’ll feel most loved through holding hands, hugs, and massage. Without touch, you won’t feel as loved.

Kinds of Touch

So what kind of touch is needed for well-being? Practically any touch will do. Try snuggles, hugs, pats on the back, hand shakes, foot rubs, back scratches, massage, holding hands, or sensual touch. No one nearby to hug and squeeze? The affection you get from a pet can also be beneficial to your health.

Just remember to do touch the right way. Touch with moderate pressure seems to produce the best results. Light touch can be tickly and uncomfortable for some. And of course, particularly harsh touching isn’t loving. It’s abuse.

Touch Starvation

Go long enough without touch from others, and you may experience touch starvation. Symptoms of touch starvation include feeling extremely lonely, depressed, anxious, or stressed. You may feel deprived of affection, have trouble sleeping, feel unloved, or feel unsatisfied in your relationship.

Some people connect touch with trust. They don’t want to be touched by anyone except those they trust. Negative experiences of touch or a lack of touch can negatively affect a person’s view of touch in the future, but it doesn’t mean they don’t need touch. They just need the right kind from the right people.

If you’re starved of touch because you live alone, are isolated due to COVID-19, or live with unaffectionate people, there are ways to get more physical contact in your life. Schedule a massage from a massage therapist. Ask a loved one for a back rub. Get a dog or cat for a pet. Make an appointment to get your hair cut or your nails done. Take dance lessons.

Or just take advantage of the people you live with. Make a conscious effort to be more affectionate with those you live with. Sit close together while you watch television, give hugs when you leave for work, or give hugs and kisses at bedtime. Then smile, because that hug or kiss is doing your body and brain good!