12 Amazing Health Benefits of Hugging, According to Science
Instead of an apple, try a hug a day to feel healthier and happier than ever.
Want to boost your mood or cheer up a friend who's feeling down in the dumps? Just give them a squeeze. You may smirk at the idea that a simple embrace can turn your day around, but hugging can do just that on multiple levels—emotional, physical, and biological. From reducing stress to providing pain relief, the benefits of hugging go beyond making your heart flutter.
"Touch is an essential nutrient, just as much as water," says Patrick Quillin, PhD, author of 12 Keys to a Healthier Cancer Patient. "[Hugging] has been shown to improve overall health with measurable reductions in pain, mood disturbance, and fatigue." In fact, Quillin says that hugging may even be able to reduce the need for pain medication. How incredible is that?
With that amazing fact in mind, and in honor of National Hugging Day on Jan. 21, brush up on the incredible wellness benefits of hugging here, and then go out and embrace the ones you love!
It relieves stress.
Scientific research shows that regular human contact, like daily hugging, can markedly decrease the amount of stress someone experiences. "A study performed in 2014 found support that being embraced in a hug once a day significantly decreases symptoms of stress," says GinaMarie Guarino, MA, LMHC, founder of PsychPoint.
Along with seeing a decrease in their stress levels, participants in the study "were also more mentally healthy and prepared to face daily stressors because they felt emotionally supported," Guarino said.
And it reduces anxiety.
Nothing feels better when you're experiencing anxiety than a warm embrace from someone who cares about you. And that's not a coincidence, says Jamie Bacharach, certified medical acupuncturist and head of Acupuncture Jerusalem.
"It has been observed that there is a link between hugging and diminished levels of anxiety and stress," she says. "People who hug and practice other displays of intimacy are less likely to suffer through intense feelings of stress than those who don't."
It can keep children healthier.
"The presence of a warm, loving, and affectionate adult can buffer against the toxic effects of childhood abuse and neglect," says Amy Ricke, MD, of Your Doctors Online.
In a 2013 study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), researchers examined the link between childhood abuse, parental warmth, and future risk for the development of heart disease. And according to their conclusions, touch and affection had a protective effect against coronary artery disease and even death.
"Child maltreatment not only leads to a host of damaging psychological consequences, but also leads to an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and other chronic inflammatory diseases," Ricke says. "Physical affection in the context of a loving relationship can reduce these negative health risks in adulthood."
And it prevents people of all ages from getting a cold.
Just clasping your arms around someone's body can actually help protect them from getting sick. "One study found that people who received hugs more frequently were less likely to become infected by illness," Bacharach says. "After being intentionally exposed to the common cold virus, individuals who received frequent hugs were less likely to become sick than those who did not do any hugging."
It can reduce pain.
Bacharach also notes that people with chronic pain can find relief through hugging. "Hugs help release endorphins, which activate opioid receptors in the brain to minimize pain and discomfort," she says. In fact, a 2014 study published in the journal Holistic Nursing Practice found that therapeutic "touch treatments" reduced pain in patients with fibromyalgia.
And it can help with neck and shoulder pain, in particular.
According to Jeep Naum, DO, a family practitioner from Wheeling, West Virginia, hugging "stimulates the secretion of dopamine in the brain, which further enhances the feeling of relaxed well-being."
What exactly does that look like? Well, Naum explains, "The muscle contractions of the head and neck stop, the resting tone of the muscles normalizes, the pressure on the nerves and blood vessels decrease, blood flow improves, muscle range of motion improves, and the pain resolved."
It helps your body produce more of the "love hormone."
The hormone oxytocin is sometimes referred to as the "feel-good" hormone because its presence in your body makes you, well, feel good. And if you want more of that feeling—and let's be honest, who doesn't?—then hugging is a good way to go about it. "Hugs are a great way to produce lots of the hormone oxytocin," says Anna Cabeca, DO. "Hugging or 'heart-to-heart' physical contact can improve coherence, decrease cortisol—the stress hormone—and increase oxytocin."
It can lower your blood pressure.
In addition to all those warm and fuzzy feelings you get from a rush of oxytocin, the hormone can also help lower your blood pressure. A 2005 study published in Biological Psychology suggests that more frequent hugging between partners lowers blood pressure in pre-menopausal women. And, as Ricke points out, "avoiding high blood pressure is a key factor in reducing risk for heart disease and a variety of other chronic health risks."
And it can also decrease your heart rate.
As mentioned, hugs can help manage stress and anxiety. The reason for that is because they help slow down your heart rate to a more relaxed state. "When under stress, the adrenal gland releases epinephrine, which causes an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and muscle tone," says Naum. "Epinephrine released excessively can cause cardiac arrhythmias and anxiety."
But hugging leads to relaxation, which "diffuses stress because hugging is an act of positive affection. In diffusing stress, epinephrine is decreased so your heart rate is decreased and blood pressure falls."
Hugging can help with conflict resolution.
A 2018 study published in the journal PLOS One found that hugging can help with conflict resolution, as well as decrease your negative mood. "According to research, a hug can lessen negative feelings during and after a fight, and increase positive feelings after a fight has occurred," Guarino says. Since reducing the amount of tension in your life can help lower stress and anxiety levels, this is just another example of hugging's powerful role in improving your well-being.
It can ward off an existential crisis.
When it seems like nothing could allay those big-picture worries of purpose and mortality that pop in your mind on occasion, try going in for a hug. "Even fleeting and seemingly trivial instances of interpersonal touch may help people to deal more effectively with existential concern," Sander Koole, lead researcher on a series of studies on connection, said in a statement in 2013.
And it helps you forge close relationships with your pet.
Though there aren't specific studies on the connection between hugging your pets and human health, experts agree that giving your animals a squeeze can be big source of comfort for both parties. "Perhaps one of the reasons that pet owners have better health is the hugging and touching they get with their pets," Quillin says.