Anyone who has had a massage knows how good it can feel, but have you ever thought why it feels so good?
Massage works on so many different levels, and can help in dealing with chronic pain, headaches, postural imbalances etc. But one of the most
overlooked, but important benefits of massage comes simply from contact, the power of touch. We humans are social creatures, we crave society and the company of others. But society has chan
ged dramatically in recent years and more and more people are choosing to live alone, people move all over the world, away from their families. Friend networks have taken place of the more traditional family or marital home, and this is a wonderful thing, we are always evolving, always changing in this fast paced world.
But our basic biology and wiring will always remain the same, we will always crave human contact. But living in this fast paced world can make regular contact difficult.
as our cities become more and more crowded, we become more protective over our personal space. Compared to other cultures, western culture is almost touch-phobic, and this has made showing affection to anyone but loved ones taboo. Behavioural scientists in the States have found that about half a metre to a metre 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 half that, but this aversion to contact can come at a cost to our health, sometimes without us realising.
Research shows that physical affection has many health benefits. Researchers at the department of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles studied 53 adults who received one of two types of touch treatments. Blood tests revealed that those who had a Swedish massage with moderate pressure experienced decreases in stress hormones and increases in white blood cells, indicating a boost in the immune system. Meanwhile volunteers who had a “light touch” treatment showed higher levels of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes bonding. Based on the findings, the researchers believe that massage could be effective in the treatment of inflammatory and autoimmune conditions.
The Cedars-Sinai study is part of a growing body of research that shows a link between many forms of touch, from massage to hand-holding, and improved health. Another study, this time from the University of North Carolina found that sitting in close contact with a partner for 10 minutes led to lowered blood pressure in women. Over time, lower blood pressure may decrease a person’s risk for heart disease. Other research has found that physical contact can trigger a boost in serotonin, a natural antidepressant.
Are you touch deprived? Why not try some of these simple ways of incorporating more touch into your life:
- Hug someone – this is a great way to greet a friend or a loved one, much better than a perfunctory kiss on the cheek.
- Take up ballroom dancing, why not get some exercise along with touch.
- And of course, book yourself in for a nurturing massage, after all it’s good for your health!