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The Science of Hugging for Health

The children hugging outside.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

From birth to death, one of the most important parts of being human is the need for physical contact. Did you know that a firm hug can make you feel less negative emotion?

Scientists found that getting a hug on the day of a conflict was linked to a slight rise in positive emotions and a comparable drop in negative ones, and appeared to linger into the following day. Evidence suggests that close physical contact — such as a hug — can play a part in reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, blood pressure, stress, loneliness, aggression, anxiety and depression.

When you hug someone, you release a chemical called oxytocin, a hormone that plays a key role in human bonding. Oxytocin is known to increase levels of feel-good hormones such as serotonin and dopamine, which may be why it has calming effects.

There are other benefits to hugging:

Immune boost.  A 2015 Carnegie Mellon study found that those who were hugged more had a lower risk of catching colds after being exposed to the virus.

Conflict resolution. The role of oxytocin for bonding helps generate feelings of compassion during interactions. These feelings can lead to expanded trust among individuals in social situations. Physical touch during an argument with your partner can instantly defuse anxiety and anger.

In short, hugs are amazing! Hugs have the power to soothe, and transcend anger, anguish, and loss. To be a successful hugger, make sure your hug is heartfelt. Most people can tell the difference between a perfunctory hug and a genuine one. It is also important to be mindful of how much hugging is appropriate. Everyone has a different level of comfort and need when it comes to physical touch.  Make sure you are respecting those boundaries when giving hugs and offering appropriate feedback to those giving you hugs.

Andrea Groth Wellbeing Detective

Andrea wants to live in a world where the neighborhoods are walkable, bike lanes are plentiful, and the food is fresh, delicious and readily available.

A 20-year veteran of the health and wellness industry, she started her career in the fitness industry while earning a master’s degree in Exercise Science and Health Promotion, and then on to the burgeoning field of worksite wellness. Andrea has competed in collegiate level soccer, worked as a personal trainer, fitness instructor, wellness coach, and master trainer, climbed 14ers, and completed cycling centuries and metric centuries. All of these experiences give her the opportunity to view well-being from many different perspectives.
When she’s not helping others to be their healthiest self, you can find her at a farm to table restaurant, down dogging at the yoga studio, or experiencing the Colorado landscape on a bicycle, snowshoes, cross country skis or on foot.