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Hug It Out

Hugging is more than just a warm greeting. Studies show it helps the heart and calms the mind.
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Hugging and cheek-pinching kids with every entrance to a room has been encouraged as one way to ensure proper development and growth, but where’s the love for grown-ups The importance of touch in development. Ardiel, E.L. and Rankin, C.H. Brain Research Centre and Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia. Paedietrics & Child Health 2010 March; 15(3): 153-156.? Research suggests the good old fashioned hug might also reduce stress and blood pressure in adults More frequent partner hugs and higher oxytocin levels are linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate in premenopausal women. Light, K.C., Grewen, K.M., and Amico, J.A. Department of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA. Departments of Pharmaceutical Science and Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA. Biological Psychology 2005 April; 69(1):5-21., so maybe it's time to seriously consider hugging it out.

Hooray for Hugs — The Takeaway

Studies indicate hugs can do a body good by reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, and improving attitude More frequent partner hugs and higher oxytocin levels are linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate in premenopausal women. Light, K.C., Grewen, K.M., and Amico, J.A. Department of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA. Departments of Pharmaceutical Science and Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA. Biological Psychology 2005 April; 69(1):5-21.. It turns out regular hugging can also help adults— particularly women— decreasing heart rate and levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone” linked to depression and immune problems More frequent partner hugs and higher oxytocin levels are linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate in premenopausal women. Light, K.C., Grewen, K.M., and Amico, J.A. Department of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA. Departments of Pharmaceutical Science and Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA. Biological Psychology 2005 April; 69(1):5-21. Effects of partner support on resting oxytocin, cortisol, norepinephrine, and blood pressure before and after warm partner contact.Grewen KM, Girdler SS, Amico J, Light KC. Department of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA. Psychosom Med. 2005 Jul-Aug;67(4):531-8.. Some frequent huggers even have a more positive outlook on their mental health than those who don’t embrace as often. Plus, hugs (namely between spouses/partners or parents and children) may increase levels of oxytocin, a hormone shown to potentially ease stress and help with social bonding Effects of partner support on resting oxytocin, cortisol, norepinephrine, and blood pressure before and after warm partner contact.Grewen KM, Girdler SS, Amico J, Light KC. Department of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA. Psychosom Med. 2005 Jul-Aug;67(4):531-8..

Don’t have a loved one close by? Try a self-hug— really. Other research suggests self-induced hugs can ease pain by tricking the brain. When the arms are crossed, the right and left hands visually appear to be on the wrong sides of the body The anaglesic effect of crossing the arms. Gallace, A., Torta, D.M., Moseley, G.L. Department of Psychology, University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy. Pain, 2011 Jun; 12(2): 1481-23. When this happens, the brain can’t pinpoint the origin of pain and therefore has difficulty registering it. Now if only there was a way to trick the brain into believing chocolate is a vegetable…

Some people take alternate routes to soak up the benefits of hugging. Oxytocin, for instance, is often sold online as a “love drug," even though the hormone's affectionate effects are still unclear. So skip the pill and go for the real deal by embracing the hug and enjoying the potential benefits for the body and mind.

The only negative? Don’t squeeze too tight— extreme cases of strong bear hugs could cause injury to the spine or back.

The Takeaway

Research suggests hugs do a body good by reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, and improving attitude.

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