Of all the senses studied, how touch is impacted by nature is the one that needs more research. Why? Because of what we already know about touching animals … and how it has dramatic effects on our health.
Want to lower your blood pressure and calm down … pet Fido. It works.
In a 2017 paper titled, A Review of the Benefits of Nature Experiences: More Than Meets the Eye, researchers said while there is much more to learn on nature’s impact through our sense of touch, we can look to our interactions with pets for clues.
“Touching animals has been found to have beneficial cardiovascular effects [212,213,214], and it has been found that talking to and petting a dog is less arousing than talking to people [215,216],” the paper stated. “Due to the “pet effect” , touching dogs can result in lower blood pressure and heart rate than other relaxing activities such as reading , and petting a dog lowers stress and decreases salivary and serum cortisol .
“Human-animal interactions activate the oxytocinergic system, resulting in decreased social stress and endocrinological, psychophysiological, and psychosocial effects .”
So if pets, how about trees?
The researchers wrote, “One rather neglected area of research is the health and well-being effects of the non-animal aspects of nature through touch, such as feeling the grass under your feet, the water ripple through your hands, or the wind on your face (which could also be considered thermoception).”
In their research, they couldn’t locate any other “research focused on these topics, suggesting a significant gap in the literature. It would be interesting to look at blood pressure effects, for instance, of lying in the grass, to see if it provides additional benefits to those of just lying down. Part of the pleasure gardeners have in physical contact with the soil may be due to a sensual, touch component.”
Hopefully someone with research skills and a budget will do this. In the meantime, I can attest that my time in nature, touching tree bark, putting my feet in water, or lying in grass, always makes me feel better.