Handshakes have long since existed since 5th century B.C. in Greece where it was a symbol of peace, showing that neither party were carrying a weapon. The shaking gesture might have began in Medieval Europe where knights would shake each other’s hands in order to shake loose any hidden weapons. Now, handshakes are such a deeply established cultural custom that they are used all over the world in different cultures. However, it is to be questioned whether or not this gesture is endangering our health. We never know where other people’s hands have been.

Several studies have shown that hands are the single most important transmission routes for all types of infections. However, if cleaned properly, are also the first line of defense against illnesses. Researchers from Aberystwth University found that a strong handshake passes on as many as ten times the number of bacteria compared to bumping fists while a high five reduces exposure by roughly half compared to a handshake. Many people do not wash their hands properly and that is why 80 percent of individuals retain some disease-causing bacteria even after washing hands. These bacteria would then be exchanged through hand shaking which could then lead to illness and disease. Such bacteria could cause illnesses such as the flu, or stomach bugs which could have been successfully avoided if we would have only taken the necessary precautions.

Therefore, researchers are looking for a new alternative that retains the meaning of a handshake without the contact of hand on hand connection. They have come up with the fist bump as a probable alternative. Generally used by athletes and young people, the fist bump is now gaining recognition among a wider audience. It is not only plausibly hygienic; it also has a cool factor that comes with it. Even the President of the United States uses the fist bump on occasion so perhaps it is making some grounds in slowly replacing the handshake.

Hands Under a Running Faucet --- Image by © Royalty-Free/CorbisAnd even if we begin to stray away from hand shakes altogether, we must still remember to practice safe hand washing techniques. This involves washing our handsthoroughly with soap for at least two singings of the ABC’s. We can also use hand sanitizers, which must have at least 60% alcohol. The surfaces that we come in regular contact with such as door handles, toilet seats, and tap handles also need regular hygienic cleaning to prevent the spreading of germs.

Hands are objects that can carry germs from one person to the next. That is why we must always be aware of what and who our hands touch in order to limit our risk of catching a disease. One way of doing so is to move away from the common practices of hand shaking which place us at a high risk of exchanging harmful bacteria. Instead, we can adopt fist bumping which will limit our exposure to outside bacteria, and still maintain the cultural uses of a handshake. So the next time someone comes up to you to shake hands, gently show them a fist bump instead. It could save you both from a trip to the doctor’s office.


Rhonda Donahue PhD. Author of “The Pollution Inside You!” & “New Zealand’s Natural Health Remedy”  Direct Line (714)863-5959   http://rhondadonahue.com/