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4 Significant Physical Benefits of Hugging

Lowering blood pressure, inflammation, and more.

Key points

  • Hugging reduces inflammation and blood pressure.
  • Hugging can also help fight against the common cold.
  • Hugging promotes the release of oxytocin and increases feelings of bonding with others.
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Two women standing hugging
Source: Anna Shvets/Pexels

For those lucky enough to have loved ones close by, hugging can have substantial health benefits. Unfortunately, people who have been deprived of physical touch during social isolations and lockdowns in the COVID-19 pandemic have felt the detrimental health effects that a lack of physical touch can impose. Zoom calls and video conferencing are useful strategies to feel close to others when face-to-face interactions are not possible, but nothing compares to being with loved ones in person.

Physically lonely people will go so far as to pay for a hug from a professional hugger. Not only that, but any long-distance couple will tell you that the physical separation of a loved one can be emotionally and physiologically painful. Researchers understand this need and as technology advances, so does the possibility of receiving a hug from an artificial source.

Human connection, and more specifically human touch, is crucial in the development of healthy babies and adults. While each person may have a varying level of how much affectionate touch they want to receive or give, everyone requires human touch to some degree. People crave hugs so much that we’ve seen a surge of people holding “free hugs” signs on the street in the last decade.

Hugging is described as a brief embrace where two people wrap their arms around each other for about one to five seconds. Unlike cuddling, which is typically reserved for our intimate partners and can last a long time, hugging takes very little time to enact but can have huge physical benefits. Immediately after a hug, we often feel a rush of positive emotions and perhaps a little more relaxed. Physiologically, lots of things are happening in our bodies after a hug.

Hugging has impressive health benefits, particularly since it occurs for such a short time. Here are four reasons why hugging feels so good:

  1. Hugging can reduce inflammation. Inflammation in our bodies is a physiological response to illness. Higher inflammation scores are indicative of your body trying to fight off infection. Thus, low inflammation scores through physical affection suggest a healthier body. In one study, inflammation was measured using saliva samples from 20 adults who were also asked to record the number of hugs they received over 14 days. Results showed that hugs were inversely related to inflammation. To put it simply, more hugs equal less inflammation.
  2. Hugging reduces blood pressure. In a study of 59 premenopausal women (ages ranging from 20 to 29 years old), the number of hugs received from a spouse predicted lower blood pressure scores. Blood pressure is one way to assess cardiovascular health, thus, hugging is good for your heart.
  3. Hugging helps reduce the severity of the common cold. In a study of 404 adults, the number of hugs over 14 days was found to reduce the effects of interpersonal conflict on the severity of the common cold infection; hugs worked as a stress buffer where the severity of infection is reduced when hugs are frequent.
  4. Hugging promotes the production of oxytocin. Oxytocin, or the “love” hormone, is released from our pituitary gland. It is an important hormone because it can serve as a stress buffer but also makes us feel bonded and connected to others. In a study of 34 married couples, increased hugging between spouses over a four-week study was related to increased scores of oxytocin.

Researchers have long been interested in the benefits of hugging. Because hugging can be easily manipulated or tracked, several experimental research studies have explored the benefits of hugs. Only through experimental work can we put faith in the causal link between interpersonal touch behavior and physiological outcomes. As we learn more about the advantages of hugging, we might be able to understand how hugging interventions could play out in the real world.

If you’re single, you might be concerned that you don’t have anyone to hug. However, hugging is shared among a range of relationship types. You might hug someone as a greeting, for example, which may be commonplace depending on your culture. You might hug a close work colleague in congratulations for their promotion at work. You might hug a relative at the airport before you have to say bon voyage. Or you might simply hug someone because you want to feel close to them.

If you are craving physical touch, you might consider simply asking your friends to hug hello and goodbye. What might initially feel awkward will soon become habitual, and everyone can reap the benefits of a brief embrace.

Facebook/Linkedin image: fizkes/Shutterstock

References

Cohen, S., Janicki-Deverts, D., Turner, R. B., & Doyle, W. J. (2015). Does hugging provide stress-buffering social support? A study of susceptibility to upper respiratory infection and illness. Psychological Science, 26(2), 135–147. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797614559284

Holt-Lunstad, J., Birmingham, W. A., Light, K. C. (2008). Influence of a “warm touch” support enhancement intervention among married couples on ambulatory blood pressure, oxytocin, alpha amylase, and cortisol. Psychosomatic Medicine, 70(9), p. 976–985. https://doi.org/10.1097/PSY.0b013e318187aef7

Light, K. C., Grewen, K. M., & Amico, J. (2005). More frequent partner hugs and higher oxytocin levels are linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate in premenopausal women. Biological Psychology, 69, 5–21. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsycho.2004.11.002

van Raalte, L. J., & Floyd, K. (2021). Daily hugging predicts lower levels of two proinflammatory cytokines. Western Journal of Communication, 85(4), 487-506. https://doi.org/10.1080/10570314.2020.1850851

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