Hugs certainly feel good, both on the giving and receiving end, and it turns out their effects are more than skin deep. A study by University of North Carolina researchers found that hugs increase the "bonding" hormone oxytocin and decrease the risk of heart disease.
In fact, when couples hugged for 20 seconds, their levels of oxytocin, released during childbirth and breastfeeding, increased. Those in loving relationships had the highest increases.
Meanwhile, levels of the stress hormone cortisol decreased in women, as did their blood pressure. Said lead researcher and psychologist Dr. Karen Grewen, "Greater partner support is linked to higher oxytocin levels for both men and women. However, the importance of oxytocin and its potentially cardioprotective effects may be greater for women."
Hugging for Your Heart
"Scientists are increasingly interested in the possibility that positive emotions can be good for your health. This study has reinforced research findings that support from a partner, in this case a hug from a loved one, can have beneficial effects on heart health," said Dr. Charmaine Griffiths, spokesperson for the British Heart Foundation.
Indeed, a previous study, also led by Grewen, found that hugging and handholding reduces the effects of stress. Two groups of couples were asked to talk about an angry event, but one group had previously held hands and hugged, while the others sat alone. It was found that:
What's more, Grewen suggests that warm contact such as hugs and hand-holding before the start of a rough day "could carry over and protect you throughout the day."
Time to Get, and Give, More Hugs
"U.S. couples aren't very touchy feely in public," says Tiffany Field of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical School. This is a shame as touch also releases two feel-good brain chemicals, serotonin and dopamine.
Yet, according to Field's studies of U.S. and Parisian cafes, French couples spend three times more time touching than American couples.
So what are we waiting for? Grab your partner, friend or family member and give them a hug today.