Lost Touch? Implications of Physical Touch for Physical Health

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2021 Feb 17;76(3):e111-e115. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbaa134.


Objectives: Growing research on the impact of physical touch on health has revealed links to lower blood pressure, higher oxytocin levels, and better sleep, but links to inflammation have not been fully explored. Physical touch may also buffer stress, underscoring its importance during the stressful time of living in the COVID-19 global pandemic-a time that has substantially limited social interactions and during which physical touch has been specifically advised against.

Method: We analyze nationally representative longitudinal data on older adults (N = 1,124) from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project using cross-lagged path models.

Results: More frequent physical touch is significantly related to a lower likelihood of subsequent elevated inflammation.

Discussion: These findings highlight the importance of finding safe ways to incorporate physical touch, even in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keywords: COVID-19; Inflammation; Touch.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • C-Reactive Protein
  • COVID-19* / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / blood
  • Inflammation / psychology*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Distancing*
  • Social Interaction*
  • Stress, Psychological / blood
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Touch / physiology*


  • C-Reactive Protein