October 01, 2006

Holding Hands Is Healthy

Could it be that holding hands not only feels good, it is healthy? As I was reading an article in Parade Magazine, it stated just that:
"It starts with the simple act of holding hands and hugging—long and loving embraces, several times a day, according to the latest science.

In the first study of how human touch affects the body’s response to stress and threatening situations, Dr. James Coan, a psychologist in the departments of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Virginia, recruited married volunteers, slid them into MRI machines and warned them to expect an electric shock on their ankles. When spouses reached into the machines to hold their respective partner’s hand—a simple yet loving gesture of support—the part of the brain that registers the anticipation of pain “turned off.” The volunteers also said that they felt less distress.

The hand-holding also reduced agitation in the hypothalamus, the area of the brain that controls the release of stress hormones, which turn off our immune function. Eventually, a weakened immune system can make us sick.

“We can’t see what our spouses are doing to our brains and emotions until a stressful event arises, but it’s going on all the time,” says Dr. Coan. “When a wife holds or caresses her husband, she is really reaching into the deepest parts of his brain, calming down the neural-threat response.

Everyone needs to be touched, held, cuddled, nurtured. I admit it; I need very little but I do need affectionate hugs, holding hands, loving pats on the backside.

The Parade Magazine article continues:
"When all is said and done, a solid marriage with regular and enthusiastic sex can be the best preventive medicine of all. In a woman, repeated affectionate hugs release the “bonding hormone” oxytocin and reduce blood pressure, which helps to protect her heart. No surprise: Men need more than snuggling. In men, the levels of oxytocin can and do surge up to five times above normal, but only immediately before he reaches orgasm. In a study at Queen’s University in Belfast, the mortality of about 1,000 middle-aged men of comparable health was tracked over the course of a decade. The men who had sex three or more times a week had a 50% reduced risk of heart attack or stroke. And those who reported the most frequent orgasms had a death rate one-half that of the less sexually active men."
In an article by John A. Speyrer, he states:
"The July/August, 2005, issue of Psychosomatic Medicine reports how "warm partner contact" or cuddling can mitigate the effects of stressful activities. A study by Grewin, Girdler, Amico and Light at the University of North Carolina's department of psychiatry reported on two studies of couples, in stabilized relationships, who before undergoing a stressful experience (they were told they would be giving a public speech) received body cuddling from their spouses. Each group and its control were placed in separate rooms, their blood pressure, oxytocin and cortisol (a stress hormone) levels were measured.

During their speeches those speakers who had not received hugs and cuddles from their partners had heart rates and blood pressure rates which were much higher than speakers from the other couples who had held hands and embraced for 20 seconds.

It was reported: "Our findings suggest that when the relationship is supportive and strong, time spent with the partner may be beneficial by reducing blood pressure and protecting against future heart disease," and concluded: "These are the first findings in humans linking oxytocin to the strength of the partner relationship, and it was seen in both men and women.''

The study surmised that oxytocin is one factor which gives marriage its beneficial effects by calming distress. Perhaps the increased level of oxytocin explains why married couples live longer, although I remember reading somewhere that some wag claimed that marriage couples didn't live longer - it only seemed longer ! Statistics show that being divorced, single or experiencing grief can damage one's health. Increased oxytocin may have a number of other unknown health benefits. And not just any hug or touch will do. For example, a perfunctory hug will not raise those desirable hormone levels.

For the people who live by the philosophy "If it feels good, do it", this is a heads up. Hold hands. Cuddle. Be Healthy. Yeah.

1 comment:

Carina said...

Since I've been (mostly and unfortunately celibate-ly) single for almost two years, does this give me permission to go out and find a boy-toy for health reasons?
Heh heh. Seriously I agree hugs are important. I have a couple of single friends with whom I share hugs and we joke about it being good for our wellbeing and now I know why!