Healthy Power of Hugs

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healthy hugs

Did you know that those hugs from family and friends offer you great health benefits? Powerful physically and emotionally, hugs may even help you avoid getting sick this winter. Here are some key understandings as well as great health reasons to hug it out with those you love.

Dr. Nina’s What You Need to Know: About the Healthy Power of Hugs

While nonverbal, hugs communicate a wide range of emotions in varying degrees including endearment, support, love, affection, appreciation, congratulations, delight, care, or saying hello or goodbye. As we mature, who and when we hug becomes dependent on the individual, culture, social environment as well as the respect of personal boundaries. 

Between people who care about each other, a hug is a pleasant experience – and they have the power to set off a series of health benefits for each person including:

  • Decreasing Stress and Improving Heart Health: Human touch lowers the production of the stress hormone cortisol, which increases blood pressure and heart rate. When stress (and cortisol) levels are chronically elevated, it can cause irritability, hypertension, impair sleep, and elevate your risk for heart disease. Hugs help put a damper on the ill-effects of stress and, hence, decreases blood pressure and can lower the chance of heart problems.
  • Boosting Immune Response: A study found that adults who received frequent hugs had less symptoms of an illness — or even none at all — and were less likely to fall ill when exposed to a common cold virus compared to those who received less or no hugs.

Stress is deleterious to your immune system which fights against germs and cancer growth. Research authors believed that hugs decreased stress either from the physical contact itself or the feeling of support and intimacy with another.  

  • Increases Happiness, Bonding, Contentment, Love: Just six seconds of hugging someone has been shown to elevate oxytocin levels, a hormone that plays an important role in bonding. In fact, it has been dubbed the “cuddle hormone” or the “love hormone.” It makes you feel empathy, trust, and relaxed with others, which in turn helps us feel close and bonded to them.  
  • Elevates Mood and Relieves Depression, Anxiety: A simple embrace also increases dopamine and serotonin levels, and is an instant mood lifter, as low levels of dopamine and serotonin are associated with decreased motivation, lack of pleasure and enjoyment —as well as anxiety, depression, fear, worry, dread, and paranoia. 
  • Broadens Understanding:  A hug can cause an exchange of feelings, which, in turn, promotes understanding and empathy — releasing the hormone oxytocin, referred to also as the love hormone.
  • Helps Relax the Body: Most huggers fall into each other which can allow the muscles to relax, having a therapeutic effect. 

Hug Etiquette: The type of hug shared between two people can speak volumes about their relationship and there are basic – often unspoken—rules about hugging. Experts offer these guidelines: 

  • Always respect another person’s space—don’t overstep personal boundaries
  • Unless you are on intimate terms with the person, consider asking permission before hugging them. This helps to ensure your hug is not offensive.
  • Hug accordingly. And don’t give mixed messages in a hug. Remember, there is a difference between a friendly hug and a passionate embrace. A hug between romantic partners is much different than a hug between two people who have just met.
  • Never assume that it is okay to hug someone, even if you have hugged the person prior –always respect the other person’s signals 
  • Be careful when hugging someone at work. Given the growing concern about sexual harassment, it’s wise to stay away from hugging to show you care about your colleagues. For the most part, you should err on the side of not hugging, even if you think it would be welcomed by someone you believe you know reasonably well. 

Also, with all the family holiday embraces, your children may be more reserved with their hugs. The American Academy of Pediatrics takes a clear stance: “Don’t force children to give hugs or kisses to people they do not want to. It’s their right to tell even grandma or grandpa that they don’t want to give them a kiss or a hug goodbye to constantly reinforce the idea that their body is their own.” Facts are that forced hugs can give kids the wrong idea about consent and physical affection.

Experts suggest at a minimum, 4-12 hugs a day. Wishing you a wonderful year filled with an abundance of treasured embraces! 

Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures. 

She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.

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