The Power of Hugs and How They Affect Our Daily Health
By Author Name
Jul 9, 2019
Updated Oct 25, 2023
5 min read
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Are you a hug or a handshake kind of person? If you’re the latter, you might want to reconsider the power a hug can have on your health. As it turns out, that big purple dinosaur might have been on to something when he decided that hugs were the standard greeting. We all know hugs can be comforting during hard times, but why not start making it a regular part of your day? We have a few reasons below to start doing just that.
You know how drinking too much coffee can kind of put us on edge for the next few hours? Well, hugging can actually have the opposite effect. Like so many other unseen benefits, this all goes back to good ol’ hormones. Some researchers believe that hugging and other interpersonal touch can boost a hormone called oxytocin and also affect our endogenous opioid system. Big words, right? But basically it boils down to this: Simply through the act of hugging, our brains can produce soothing chemicals that help us feel more safe and less threatened throughout the day. So when something stressful does come up, we don’t have such an aggressive fight-or-flight response to it.
Okay, this benefit goes hand in hand with the one above. Maybe you’ve noticed how it’s so much easier to get sick when you’re stressed out. That’s because our immune system kicks into overdrive when we’re feeling stressed, and it can actually backfire to make us more susceptible to illness. One study found that people who were hugged and felt socially supported also experienced less severe signs of sickness.
The University of North Carolina conducted a study with 59 women and found some interesting results. After a short series of questions and general chatting about their partner, some women ended each session with a 20-second hug. The women who received a hug from their partners had lower blood pressure and heart rates during stressful sections of testing. The researchers think that oxytocin (that we mentioned earlier) might be the cause for their better heart health.
All of us can probably agree that sometimes there’s nothing like a hug when you’re feeling blue. A retirement home in New York decided to take this idea to a systematic level and implement a program called “Embraceable You.” It was a push for more contact between the older residents and staff members so as to improve the residents’ well-being. As it turned out, the residents who received three or more hugs per day felt less depressed, had more energy, could concentrate easier and slept better.
So the next time you’re going in for a handshake, try a hug and see how you feel afterward!