The Power of Touch
Human touch is one of the most ancient forms of healing. As
more scientific evidence becomes available on the health benefits
of massage, it confirms what we intuitively know
THINK BACK TO A TIME when you felt truly safe,
secure, comforted and loved. Were you being held by a parent,
embraced by a friend or walking hand in hand with a lover? It's
entirely possible-because the sense of touch is so powerful. And
it's only now that we're beginning to understand just how powerful
it can be.
"It's really the last sense to be researched," says Tiffany
Field, Ph.D., director of the
Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of
Medicine. "With touch, it's
not obvious you're missing it as with other senses like sight or
hearing. We refer to it as the ignored sense."
But Dr. Field and fellow researchers have done hundreds of
studies on the power of touch in recent years, and found that it
has benefits at every stage of life.
Emotional and Physical Benefits
"Touch is critical to growth and development," Dr. Field says.
"We've found that preemies who are touched gain weight faster and
leave the hospital sooner."
And it doesn't stop there. Field has found touch to positively
affect almost every aspect of emotional and physical well-being
studied, from depression, anxiety, ADHD and autism to lower back
pain, migraines and immune system problems.
They've even done cross-cultural studies. "We studied children
and adolescents in Paris and Miami and found that children in
Paris, France, where they touch each other more and they are
touched more by their parents, are less aggressive."
The team is now studying touch's effect on relationships, and
Dr. Field says she thinks there will be a positive correlation
there as well.
How It Works
Why is touch so powerful? In a word, science.
"When you stimulate the pressure receptors under the skin, the
heart slows down, food in the gastrointestinal tract is absorbed
into the body better, and serotonin is released into the
bloodstream," Dr. Field explains. "When that happens, you decrease
pain and heighten alertness."
Touch can even stimulate the body to better equip its natural
killer cells to fight off bacterial infections and even more
serious threats such as cancer.
The Preferred Method: Massage
Just as in the examples stated at the beginning of this article,
touch from a variety of sources can be beneficial. But Dr. Field
specifically recommends massage.
"Moderate pressure is the key," she says. "I recommend going to
a licensed massage therapist as often as you can. It's more
effective than, say, getting a back rub from a friend."
That said, be sure to get some form of touch every day. "We are
a touch-deprived society," she says. "It's important to get a daily
dose of touch." And don't forget to return the favor. Not only will
the recipient of your touch benefit, but you will, too. "The
massager benefits just as much as the massagee."
-By Shelley Flannery