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Hug For Your Physical And Mental Health

1 month, 2 weeks ago

2703  0
Posted on Apr 09, 2024, 5 p.m.

Do you appreciate a comforting hug at the end of a stressful day, or a gentle stroke on your shoulders when you are feeling down in the dumps? You may relate to the positive reinforcement that comes with consensual touch, but the question remains can touch really help you to feel better, and does it matter who or what the hug comes from or how they touch you? 

To uncover these answers, researchers from the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience Social Brain Lab and the University Hospital Essen conducted a large-scale analysis of studies exploring touch interventions. Their findings were published in Nature Human Behaviour and reveal the ways in which consensual touch can benefit both physical and mental well-being, such as reducing pain, anxiety, stress, and depression in adults.

"This is especially relevant considering how often touch interventions are overlooked" Packheiser, the first author, notes.

"A key question of our study is to leverage the hundreds of individual studies out there to identify what type of touch works best," adds Professor Keysers, director of the Social Brain Lab. "What if you don't have a friend or partner close by to hug you? Would touch from a stranger or even a machine also help? And how often? The study clearly shows that touch can indeed be optimized, but the most important factors are not necessarily those we suspect."

According to the researchers, the person touching you, how they touch you, and the duration does not make a difference in terms of impact. A long-lasting massage from a therapist could be as effective as a quick hug from a friend until the frequency of the intervention is taken into account. The more often that a touch intervention is offered the greater the impact will be; therefore, a quick hug could be even more impactful than a massage if the hug is offered more frequently. And, as it turns out, object or robot hug interventions can be equally effective at improving physical well-being as a human hug. 

 "There are lots of people in need of well-being improvements, perhaps because they're lonely but also because they may be inflicted by clinical conditions. These results indicate that a touch-robot, or even a simple weighted blanket has the potential to help those people," last author Frédéric Michon explains. However, the benefits of robot and object interventions are less effective for mental well-being. Mental health disorders like anxiety or depression might therefore require human touch after all, "perhaps suggestive of the importance for an emotional component associated with the touch," Michon points out.

"It would be useful to see whether an animal's or pet's touch could improve well-being, and inversely if they also benefit from it, but unfortunately there simply aren't enough studies, or properly controlled ones, for us to draw any general conclusions on these topics," Michon clarifies.

Looking into the impact of touch in newborn babies, the researchers found that babies significantly benefited from touch, however, these benefits were much higher when the touch was done by a parent rather than a healthcare worker. However, it proved to be rather difficult to draw conclusions about the effects of touch on children and teenagers due to a lack of studies. 

"This finding could be impactful," Packheiser adds. "Death rates due to premature births are high in some countries and the knowledge that a baby benefits more from the touch of their own parent offers another easily implementable form of support for the baby's health."

"Large-scale studies like this help us draw more general conclusions but they also help us identify where research is lacking," Michon explains. "We hope that our findings can steer future research to explore lesser-known questions. This includes animal touch, but also touch across ages, and in specific clinical settings like autistic patients, another category that has not been explored extensively."

Accompanying video:

As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. 

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