I don't think any of us would deny the power of a hug or kiss. I'm sure we all enjoy showing our loved ones just how much we care. Now there's more evidence that simply touching people can have a profound effect on their mental and physical well-being. The data was presented in an article by Tom McNichol that appeared in a recent USA Weekend.
The provocative findings came out of research by the University of Miami School of Medicine's Touch Research Institute. The institute brings together scientists from esteemed universities nationwide to study the sense of touch and how it might be used to promote health and treat disease. I'd like to share some of the researchers' findings.
According to the article:
"Touch can lift depression. A 30-minute back massage given daily to hospitalized, depressed and adjustment-disorder children reduced their depression, decreased stress hormones and improved sleep.
"Massage therapy increases immune function, particularly significant for people infected with HIV. Subjects receiving four weeks of massage therapy had increased immune function and lower stress hormone levels.
"Massage reduces job stress, which costs the U.S. an estimated $200 billion each year through diminished productivity, workers' compensation claims, absenteeism and direct medical expenses. Adults were given 15-minute massages in their offices twice a week for four weeks. Immediately after their sessions, the employees experienced heightened alertness and performed better on math problems.
"Premature infants subjected to a gentle 15-minute massage three times a week showed remarkable improvement over preemies left untouched in their incubators. Massaged infants gained weight 47% faster, had better motion response and were released from the hospital six days sooner, saving thousands of dollars per infant."
These are just a few examples from the institute's research that provide convincing evidence of the healing powers of touch. Unfortunately, as the article points out, it appears Americans are generally touch-deprived. Cross-cultural studies have shown that the U.S. has one of the lowest rates of casual touch in the world. For example, research shows that French parents touch their children three times more often than American parents. This means we're not enjoying all of the above-mentioned benefits of being a more touchy-feely society.
Exacerbating the problem is the fact that we're going through a period when everyone is concerned about "inappropriate" touching. As the article states, issues such as sexual harassment have made Americans "touchier about touch than ever before." Some schools, for example, have instituted "teach, don't touch" policies. Harville Hendrix, author of Getting the Love That Heals: A Guide for Parents, makes this observation: "You seldom see a teacher put his hands on a crying child's shoulder anymore. That's a real loss. To protect ourselves from being accused of inappropriate touch, we're not touching at all."
Living without touch is just plain unhealthy, as the researchers are proving. They contend that a daily dose of touch can be just as important to our health as diet and exercise. It shouldn't be very hard to make it a part of your daily fitness regimen.
Charles S. Lauer