The Healing Power of Touch

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Did you know that YOU have healing power, literally at your fingertips? The simple act of touching – not necessarily in a romantic manner – is so powerful that it can reduce pain, lower your heart rate, decrease your blood pressure, and strengthen your immune system!

The simple act of holding hands with a loving partner can significantly reduce physical pain, a new study suggests. Researchers asked 22 heterosexual couples who had been together for at least a year to under go brain scans as they participated in different scenarios. The women either sat holding hands with their partners, sat nearby but did not touch them, or were in a different room. The scenarios were then repeated, but this time the women were subjected to mild pain. Overall, the women found that holding hands reduced the intensity of their pain by an average of 34 percent. The brain scans showed that when the couples held hands, their brain waves became synchronized—and that this “coupling” effect was even greater when the women were in pain. The researchers speculate that supportive touch could help people feel understood, which may trigger pain-reducing reward systems in the brain. “We have developed a lot of ways to communicate in the modern world, and we have fewer physical interactions,” lead author Pavel Goldstein, from the University of Colorado Boulder, tells ScienceDaily.com. “This [research] illustrates the power and importance of human touch.

In other research, psychologist Matthew Hertenstein, PhD, director of the Touch and Emotion Lab at DePauw said, “Most of us, whatever our relationship status, need more human contact than we’re getting,” says Hertenstein. “Compared with other cultures, we live in a touch-phobic society that’s made affection with anyone but loved ones taboo.” (Behavioral scientists have found that about two to four feet is the accepted amount of personal space most Americans need to feel comfortable; in Latin America and the Middle East that distance can shrink to less than a foot or two.) The benefits of touch actually showed measurable health benefits. “Stimulating touch receptors under the skin can lower blood pressure and cortisol levels, effectively reducing stress,” Hertenstein says. One study from the University of North Carolina found that women who hugged their spouse or partner frequently (even for just 20 seconds) had lower blood pressure, possibly because a warm embrace increases oxytocin levels in the brain. Over time, lower blood pressure may decrease a person’s risk for heart disease.

In our information-rich, relationship-poor world that is so focused on staring at our technology-based screens, it is a good time to remember that old AT&T commercial (ironically to promote technology) to just “reach out and touch someone” today. You may be a potent force for physical healing in their lives.

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