The Health Benefits of Human Touch

As Cupid’s arrow sails towards Valentine’s Day, many plan to celebrate with lots of kissing, hugging and hand-holding. Those romantic love expressions can certainly make your heart beat faster, but did you know that human touch might also play a role in better health?

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh provide evidence that suggests people who received hugs were better able to respond to conflict and stress later.

people holding hands

A separate study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that holding someone’s hand can have a pain-relieving effect, possibly alleviating physical discomfort through shared empathy.

Our bodies also release oxytocin, a hormone produced in the brain dubbed the “cuddle chemical,” during physical affection. Oxytocin plays a role in empathy and trust, plus it helps manage stress and anxiety, factors that can impede good health.

Bottom line: The potential health benefits of touch may be worth snuggling up to. Research indicates that engaging in a steady flow of interpersonal touch may enable you to:

  • Cut the cortisol: Physical affection may reduce secretion of cortisol, a stress-induced hormone that can help you in a fight-or-flight situation by elevating your blood pressure and boosting energy supplies.
  • Dial back blood pressure: Lower stress, a potential benefit from interpersonal touch, may help keep blood pressure in check.
  • Keep your cool: Getting a hug can go a long way toward helping us feel less stressed, according to the Carnegie Mellon study. Participants who received multiple hugs over a two-week period reported handling interpersonal conflict and stress better.
  • Dampen distress: A Swedish study found that caregivers who calmed crying children with “haptic” soothing techniques such as embracing, stroking and patting were able to elicit trust more easily and soothe children to stop their crying.

Of course, you don’t have to wait for Valentine’s Day to enjoy the benefits of human touch. Getting a regular professional massage may also be a good way to receive a steady dose of hands-on stress reduction.