Okay – so maybe an article just about sex may be a little racy for the this blog.  So let’s talk about how we underestimate the power of touch and physical intimacy.

Besides your skin being a good place to hang your clothes, it is quite amazing.  Your skin is also your largest organ. In a grown man, it covers about 19 square feet and weighs about 8 pounds. A piece of skin the size of a quarter contains more than 3 million cells, 100 to 340 sweat glands, 50 nerve endings and 3 feet of blood vessels.  Another interesting fact about your skin is that researchers believe the tactile sense (what you feel through your skin) may be the first sense that babies feel even in the first month of a pregnancy and the sense of touch usually remains intact up until death.

A research study commissioned by Vaseline Intensive Care reminds us “our skin protects us in the course of our normal life from harsh climates and from infection.  It regenerates and recreates itself.  It is waterproof, and yet it emits water.  Quite simply, it is amazing.”

Serious research about the sense of touch began about 40 years ago.  We know that babies without the nurturing of being held and touched do not thrive in the same way infants who are held and touched.  Mammals like apes, dogs, cats, and even humpback whales enjoy a good scratching.  Research informs us that touch can help us deal with many of the challenges that come our way in life; pain, fear, anxiety, stress, sickness, grief, and loneliness.

Touching can reassure us, relax us, comfort us, arouse us, soothe us to sleep and can cause uncontrollable laughter.  Unlike other parts of the word, people in the United States and England already touch less than other cultures.  Based on a study done watching people in coffee shops around the world, people in Puerto Rico touched 180 times in an hour, Paris 110 times, only 2 times in the US and none in London.  This may be a reflection of a need to be highly independent individuals like our friends north of the U.S. border.  However, almost half of the people in Canada who were surveyed feel they need more touch in their lives.  As we mature, touch seems to be less important than it was as a child – but it is still an important part of our lives.

What can we do to put ourselves in “touch” with others?  Hug your grandkids, shake hands with other adults, make love, give or get a neck rub, and just be in social situations that naturally increase the amount of touch you can give and receive.   Today there are more older adults living the single life.  Fifty years ago most elders lived with or close to their family in the neighborhood so there were more opportunities for everyday touch.  I’m not saying you need to be all touchy-feely, especially if that has not been part of your lifestyle.  However, why should you now as an older adult, expect less touch in your life?

Older adults may perceive their own bodies as not as inviting or feel as good to the touch as it once did.  It is up to you to think of your skin as it is showing the signs of a well-lived life rather than dwelling on its imperfections. Besides, getting yourself into more natural social situations, you can also take better care of your skin so you feel better about being touched.  Here are some good tips from Vaseline for skin care for older adults.

  • Drink more water, less alcohol, and eat a balanced diet.
  • Exercise improves circulation.  Even a brief stroll increases oxygen and nutrients to the skin.
  • Have a skin care regimen.  Wash regularly with warm water.  Avoid harsh cleansers and apply a moisturizer as soon as possible after washing.
  • Protect your skin, use sunscreen, and dress for the weather.
  • Stop smoking and avoid being in second hand smoke.
  • Use a humidifier if you live in a dry place like Colorado.
  • Finally, get plenty of sleep since skin rejuvenates more at night.

Finally, Zur and Nordmarken state that, “Touch triggers a cascade of healing chemical responses”.  This includes a decrease in stress hormones, increases in chemicals known to affect our feelings of happiness, and increases immune levels.  Touch is basic to human development, can be a form of communication, and critical for feeling joined to others persons.  Think about how much touch you get in a day, in a week, how much you receive now compared to past years and natural places to increase your physical contact.   Value the power of touch and physical intimacy in your life.

Make it a priority to get in “touch” with others.