When we think of improving our health, most of us envision ourselves feasting on colorful fruits and veggies, saying no to processed foods, practicing enough yoga to give us lean muscles, and getting a good night’s sleep practically every night. Good health, however, extends far beyond these obvious habits!

Our sense of touch is powerful enough to lower blood pressure and heart rate, boost immune function, relieve pain, reduce stress and anxiety, and even improve mood. So if you think you’re doing everything right with your other healthy lifestyle habits, maybe it’s time to pay attention to where you could be lacking in the touch department.

Here are five healthy touch habits to experiment with.


1. Give and receive more physical affection.

We may not know it, but many of us in the West are actually suffering from touch deprivation. Michelangelo once said, “To touch can be to give life,” and research has confirmed proof of this by observing positive changes in the brain’s reward system and cardiovascular system from touch. Hugging, kissing, holding hands, caressing, cuddling, having someone play with your hair, and having sex are all forms of physical affection that can lead to greater health benefits.


2. Go for a massage (or try self-massage).

You don’t have to be a professional athlete to reap the benefits of a massage from a licensed massage therapist. Massage has been shown to reduce muscle soreness after exercise, relieve chronic back pain, reduce pain from surgery, and aid in recovery from injury. Of course, if you don’t have the time or funds to treat yourself to a luxurious massage, you can always get some of the same benefits by using some special self-massage techniques.


3. Try foam rolling before or after your yoga practice.

Similar to massage, foam rolling your muscles either before or after you exercise with a foam roller can improve everything from flexibility and range of motion, to muscle soreness and injury prevention. You can also get something called a “rumble roller,” which is similar in cylindrical shape to the foam roller, but has specially designed bumps along it to help dig deeper into the tissue of your pressure points.


4. Pet a dog or a cat.

Dogs and cats might as well be a member of the family, but they do so much more than make our homes warmer and cozier. Research has shown that talking to and petting dogs can help lower blood pressure. And hey, even if you’re more of a cat person, you can pretty much reap the same benefits. Whether you love snuggling up with a kitty in your lap or watching your dog’s goofy face as you give him a good scratch behind the ears, bonding with your pets is bound to do you you both some serious good.


5. Use a gravity blanket or a body pillow when you sleep.

Gravity blankets are blankets that weight 10% of a person’s body weight, claiming to help reduce stress and anxiety by pressure stimulation. The pressure of the blanket supposedly increases serotonin for better sleep. And if you consider yourself to be a side sleeper, you might want to try investing in a body pillow to hug as you drift off to sleep. Hugging a body pillow can help calm your mind and body by making you feel safe and stable.