Hugs are a profound gesture of affection that make us feel good under a number of circumstances. You may be surprised to learn that they affect more than just our current mood—they have lasting physical and mental health benefits.
In honor of the 58th Annual American Heart Health Month—a time to pay special attention to one of your most vital organs—do your heart, health, and happiness some good by adding more hugs to your daily life!
In fact, scientists say we need anywhere between 4 to 12 hugs a day to truly make a difference—are you getting enough? Here’s how more embraces can benefit your heart, change your life, and how to get more of them daily.
1) They’re Good For Your HeartHugs feel good, particularly in scary or stressful situations. And it’s no fluke why they seem to work so well. Researchers have found that hugs actually have a physiological effect on heart behavior.
In a study on 200 people split into two groups of huggers and hand-holders called the “warm contact group” and another non-contact group that simply sat in silence, when put under simulated stress, the warm contact group displayed lower blood pressure and a slower heart rate compared to the non-contact group. These findings suggest that a supportive hug during stressful times can actually calm an anxious heart.
2) You May Sleep Better
Hugging has been shown to help lower our stress hormone cortisol, while elevating our “love” or “cuddle” hormone called oxytocin, which is a powerful combination when it comes to getting quality sleep.
The more hugs you get, the better you may sleep at night thanks to lowered stress, heightened oxytocin, and an overall improved mood – all of which positively affect your sleep-wake cycle.
3) You May Reduce Stress
The power of touch goes far beyond that initial feeling of comfort when being embraced. Researchers set out to better understand the stress response to physical pain with and without a partner’s supportive touch and found that study participants who received an electric shock and had a partner there to support them through touch had a significantly reduced stress response in the brain compared to test subjects who were not touched while receiving the shock.
4) Hugs Make Us Feel Safe, Happy & Connected
Hugs are a form of social glue that bring people together and bond us. When we hug, feel-good endorphins and neurotransmitters are released, which are a part of the reward system center in our brain that’s associated with pleasure and pain relief. This makes us want to repeat the habit again and again, which in turn helps us form bonds with those around us.
Researchers have shown that hugs lead to better emotional development, feelings of safety and trust, strong social connections, and longer lives.
5) Your Immune System Will Be Stronger
Have you ever noticed how when you’re stressed to the max you somehow wind up coming down with something? That’s because stress hormones wreak havoc on your immune system and prevent your body from effectively fighting off infection.
The good news is that the inverse is also true. Supportive relationships and feelings of well-being can significantly bolster your immune system. In one study that featured over 400 participants, hugging not only prevented more of the participants from getting sick in the first place, but of those that did contract a virus, the folks that received frequent hugs had less severe symptoms and recovered faster than those who didn’t.
Are You Getting Enough Hugs?
It’s not every day you stop to wonder how many hugs you’re getting on a daily basis, but researchers have spent decades working out how hugs translate to well-being. You may be surprised to learn that you need more hugs than you’re probably currently getting.
Researchers say four hugs a day is the bare minimum to fight off feelings of depression, while eight is ideal for mental health and stability, and 12 is the holy grail for “real psychological growth.”
It’s said a hug should last between 5 and 10 seconds for the feel-good hormone oxytocin to be released—and longer if it’s not awkward. (Note: We don’t recommend a 20-second hug with someone you just met!). But don’t fret if you’re not getting enough hugs in your everyday life. There are some easy ways to get more heart-benefiting hugs:
1) Ask for Them!
There is no shame in asking for a hug. Luckily the question, “Can I have a hug?” has become commonplace in many cultures because let’s face it, our loved ones can’t read our minds. If you’re feeling stressed, down, or overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to ask a friend, family member, or significant other for a hug.
2) Hug Your Pet
We get it, sometimes there simply isn’t anyone around to hug. If you have a cat or dog, hugging, or even petting, your furry companion has the same effect as a hug.
3) Hug Yourself
It may sound silly but don’t knock it until you try it! A self-hug when no one is around to give you one can be just as impactful, according to researchers. Self hugs have been shown to reduce pain, fear, and anxiety. Simply cross your arms around the front of your body and give yourself a big, supportive squeeze.
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