We all crave human touch. From the early and controversial primate studies of Harry Harlow to 21st century cuddle therapy clinics, science has proven that a warm embrace is not only comforting; it can be essential for your mental and physical wellbeing. A simple hug triggers a boost of your brain’s feel-good chemicals like endorphins and oxytocin, which can do wonders for a range of common health concerns. In case you needed another reason to snuggle up, here are six real health issues that can be combatted with a cuddle:
- High blood pressure – A hug or an affectionate handholding session has been shown to regulate blood pressure, even under anxiety-inducing circumstances. In one study at the University of North Carolina, couples were asked to speak publically about an upsetting event. Beforehand, half of the couples were told to hold hands with their partners for several minutes and then embrace for 20 seconds. The other couples were separated from their partners. While they spoke, the heart rate and blood pressure of the no-contact couples was double that of the hand-holders.
- Heart disease – The cuddle-induced oxytocin release linked to calming anxious feelings and lowering blood pressure, means your heart is under less stress, keeping it healthier, longer.
- Depression – A comforting cuddle is sometimes the best cure for a bad day. That’s why scientists are looking into oxytocin as a treatment for clinical depression. “A hug or a touch that causes a release of this hormone might somehow change brain signals,” say Dr. Kai MacDonald, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “We want to see if we can harness this response to help patients who suffer from depression.”
- Stress – A big hug not only makes you feel warm and fuzzy, it also has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol, commonly known as the “stress hormone”. Dr. Tiffany Field, director of the University of Miami’s Touch Research Institute explains: “The gentle pressure of a hug can stimulate nerve endings under the skin that send calming messages to the brain and slow the release of cortisol.”
- Low immune system – A high level of stress-induced cortisol can weaken your immune system, making you more vulnerable to illness and viruses. While a relaxing cuddle session might not cure the common cold, it could keep you from catching one in the first place.
- Minor aches and pains – A cosy cuddle noticeably relaxes your muscles, relieving tension that causes chronic pain. Hugging has also been shown to release endorphins, creating a feel-good rush similar to the one enjoyed by long-distance runners.
So perhaps in a way Bryan Ferry got it right: Love is a Drug. Here’s to hugging your way to good health.
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