Why Bumping Fists Is Healthier Than Shaking Hands

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Fist bumping has become a mainstream casual way to say hello and goodbye, much like what the handshake used to be. Some say the fist bump started in the 1940s while others say it dates to the 1970s when NBA players used to bump knuckles. The first televised fist bump, however, took placed in the 1970s on the cartoon The Superfriends when two characters bumped their fists. It was Deal or No Deal host Howie Mandel who, with tremendous insight, opted for a fist bump to keep the germs at bay.

While fist bumps may be the cool thing to do, they’re generally looked down upon in formal events and professional environments. That said, there is a new case to make for fist bump aficionados: it is healthier for you. Skeptical? Consider this: Researchers from the Institute of Biological, Environmental, and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University in Wales compared the germ transfer between common hand greetings including high fives, fist bumps, and shaking hands and found that bumping fists transfers the least bacteria.

In the study — published in the August issue of the American Journal of Infection Control — PhD student Sara Mela would wear a glove (either one covered in E.coli bacteria or a clean glove) and would engage in the various hand greetings. The researchers found that handshakes transferred the most germs! Second to handshakes were high fives, which transferred 50 percent less germs. But the clear winner was fist bumps, which transferred 90 percent less germs than handshakes.

“People rarely think about the health implications of shaking hands,” said Dr. Whitworth in a university press statement. “If the general public could be encouraged to fist bump, there is genuine potential to reduce the spread of infectious diseases.”

Why are fist bumps so much better? Corresponding author and senior lecturer Dr. Dave Whitworth believes it’s because of the surface area exposed. In handshakes, more skin comes in contact as opposed to fist bumps. What’s more, fist bumps are also faster than handshakes, which means the skin that is exposed will be in less contact in terms of time.

The findings of this study are significant considering that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated that 80 percent of all infections are transmitted by hands. “Adoption of the fist bump as a greeting could substantially reduce the transmission of infectious diseases between individuals,” said Dr. Whitworth to Science Daily. “It is unlikely that a no-contact greeting could supplant the handshake; however, for the sake of improving public health, we encourage further adoption of the fist bump as a simple, free, and more hygienic alternative to the handshake.”

Similar results were seen in a study by Dr. Richard Besser of the International Food Safety Training Laboratory at the University of Maryland, who found that fist bumps had significantly fewer germs than a handshake. In this study, reports ABC News, Besser would cover his hands with E.coli bacteria and shake the hands of a volunteer, who would then shake the hands of another volunteer, and so forth. Besser found that the first volunteer would have the same bacteria count as himself and each subsequent volunteer would have a high count as well. It was not until the fourth volunteer that the bacteria count saw a decline.

The solution to the germ-tastic handshake could be a variety of hand gestures, according to an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which suggests a bow, a Namaste, or a handwave.

The handshake represents a deeply established social custom. In recent years, however, there has been increasing recognition of the importance of hands as vectors for infection, leading to formal recommendations and policies regarding hand hygiene in hospitals and other healthcare facilities,” write the authors of the editorial, titled Banning the Handshake From the Health Care Setting. “Such programs have been limited by variable compliance and efficacy. In an attempt to avoid contracting or spreading infection, many individuals have made their own efforts to avoid shaking hands in various settings but, in doing so, may face social, political, and even financial risks.

More From Life Cheat Sheet: