Let’s Get Moving with Maria: The power of touch can improve lives

Apr 4, 2021, 7:03 PM | Updated: 7:05 pm
the power of touch Maria Shilaos podcast...
In this episode of Let's Get Moving with Maria, host Maria Shilaos discusses the transformative power of touch with marriage and family therapist, Dr. Liz Hale. (Photo: Canva)
(Photo: Canva)

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s probably something you do without really thinking about it — you reach out and cradle your children or grandchildren in your arms, or hold hands with a girlfriend, husband, or wife.

Those small acts of touching someone aren’t so small, said Dr. Liz Hale, a marriage and family therapist who spoke with Let’s Get Moving Host Maria Shilaos. And the power of touch is a major area of research at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

“There’s a reason that holding hands and cuddling can feel so good,” Hale said. “Tiffany Field has been studying touch for over 40 years … she’s found that from the time we’re in the womb to our elderly years, touch plays a key role in our development.”

The power of touch as research subject

Field is the director of the Touch Research Institute in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

Hale said that research has connected human touch to our physical and emotional development, our communication skills, and even our body’s ability to fight disease.

Hale uses an acronym, T O C H, to help explain the importance of touch.

T = transformative

Touch can be transformative, Hale said. Meaning, it can cause a marked change in someone or something. Ever end an argument by initiating a handshake or hug? Then you’ve experienced the transformative power of touch.

O = oxytocin

Oxytocin is a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter. Traditionally associated with breastfeeding, Oxytocin is believed to be a driving force behind attraction and caregiving. It’s associated with empathy, trust, and relationship building. And though Oxytocin is released through physical intimacy, there are other ways to receive its benefits. Oxytocin is also released when petting an animal. The happy, tranquil feeling you get from engaging in those activities is a result of Oxytocin.

C = cooperation

Researchers studied teams in the National Basketball Association and found that tactile communication, or physical touch, promoted cooperation between the players. And they found the more that team members touched each other, during practice and during games (think high-fives, or a fist-bump, or chest-bump) the more successful the team.

This can be translated elsewhere, Dr. Hale told Maria. Like, to a waitress who might touch a customer on the forearm, to a teacher who pats a student on the shoulder to say “job well done!”

H = health and happiness

“Studies show it [human touch] can create greater health and happiness,” said Dr. Hale. “It can actually increase how we feel on a day-to-day basis.”

Hale used a personal example to make her point. 

“My mother had Alzheimer’s, and these studies on touch with Alzheimer’s patients have impressive effects on their relaxation, their emotional connections with other people, and even a reduction in depression.”

Dr. Hale suggests improving relationships within your small circle of family and friends, by experimenting with the transformative power of touch. But make sure it is a non-aggressive approach and that the touch is welcomed.

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Let’s Get Moving with Maria: The power of touch can improve lives