For years I’ve heard the many old platitudes and clichés about the importance of laughter and the fine art of hugging. I never really paid much attention to what I heard for a number of “less-than-genuine” reasons.
However, as I’ve grown older I’ve been exposed to more and more evidence that there might just be something concrete to what I’ve been hearing.
Obviously, hugs certainly feel good for both those giving them and those receiving them … but apparently there’s more to it that just feelings. The effects are certainly more than skin deep.
Let’s examine some research on “hugging.”
Psychologists at University of North Carolina’s School of Medicine have conducted a great deal of research in this area. Researchers found that hugs increase the “bonding” hormone oxytocin and decrease the risk of heart disease.
Hugs are good for your heart as they lower blood pressure and reduce stress. In fact, a hearty hug in the morning may help your loved one ward off stress all day.
A brief hug and 10 minutes of hand holding with a romantic partner greatly reduce the harmful physical effects of stress, according to a study reported by the American Psychosomatic Society.
“Scientists are increasingly interested in the possibility that positive emotions can be good for your health. This study has reinforced research findings that support from a partner, in this case a hug from a loved one, can have beneficial effects on heart health,” said a spokesperson for the British Heart Foundation.
Indeed, a previous study found that hugging and handholding reduces the effects of stress. Two groups of couples were asked to talk about an angry event, but one group had previously held hands and hugged, while the others sat alone. It was found that:
- Blood pressure increased significantly more among the no-contact group as compared to the huggers.
- Heart rate among those without contact increased 10 beats a minute, compared to five beats a minute for huggers.
Humans are clearly social animals, as evidenced by countless studies showing that those who have friends are healthier, as are people who are married.
The findings suggest one reason that isolated, lonely people tend to have poorer health, says an Ohio State University psychologist. Although ours is a youth-oriented culture, older adults may benefit most from touch, she says.
“The older you are, the more fragile you are physically, so contact becomes increasingly important for good health.”
Therapeutic touch has also been shown to reduce stress and pain among adults, and reduces symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, such as restlessness, pacing, vocalization, searching and tapping.
“U.S. couples aren’t very touchy feely in public,” says Tiffany Field of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical School. This is a shame as touch also releases two feel-good brain chemicals, serotonin and dopamine.
So all of this research tells us to forget about any hang up you may have about hugging someone. What are you waiting for? Grab your partner, friend or family member and give them a hug today. Spread health and happiness at a time when this world can certainly use it!