Scientific research shows that every human being needs four hugs a day to merely survive, eight hugs to maintain strong emotional levels and 12 hugs a day to become a better person.
Touching and hugging have powerful and positive psychological effects on both the giver and the receiver. According to Bonitas Medical Fund, recent studies have clearly documented the emotional and physical health benefits that come from touch, which is now being seen as fundamental to human communication, bonding and health.
Who doesn’t enjoy a good bear hug?
Whether you are in the arms of your partner, greeting a friend or comforting someone, a hug has the ability to make you feel protected and loved. And, believe it or not, that warm fuzzy feeling you get from a hug is not only good for your body and mind but might even help you avoid getting sick this winter.
Research indicates that feeling connected to others, especially through physical touch, protects us from stress-induced sickness. Dr. Shelden Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University, who’s work focuses on the roles of stress and social support systems in health and well-being, conducted a study of over 400 healthy interviewed about their perceived social support over a two week period. Researchers exposed the participants to the common cold virus and monitored to assess symptoms and signs of infection. They found that the people who perceived themselves as having good social support and received frequent hugs had less or no number of symptoms and signs of infection. The people who went through interpersonal conflict and the people who received fewer or no hugs, however, exhibited different symptoms and signs of infection.
So what makes hugs so special?
Hugging can decrease the stress hormone which inhibits the immune system and increase the hormones and peptides that regulate the functioning of immune cells. The ‘squeeze’ increases your oxytocin levels (oxytocin is a neuropeptide) which are responsible for producing a calming effect. This means hugs don’t only make you feel good but they lower blood pressure, are good for our hearts and a natural stress reliever. They can also be comforting and reassuring.
We all know how a squeeze of the hand or a gentle tap puts us at ease. In some situations, when someone is in pain, a comforting touch or hug can act as a numbing agent and reduce the pain intensity. This is backed by extensive research by the University of Miami’s Touch Research Institute in the USA which also shows that human touch is important for all ages. But often by the time children reach their teens they receive only half as much touching as they did in the early part of their lives. Adults touch each other even less but can benefit from hugging the most yet hugging and physical touch becomes increasingly important with age.
Loneliness, particularly with age, can increase stress and have adverse health effects. The older you are, the more fragile you are physically, so contact becomes increasingly important for good health. By hugging someone, we instantly feel closer to that person and it lessens the feelings of aloneness.
Hugging a pet?
Owning a pet is also good for your health. The proven benefits for people are varied but include enhancing social skills to decreasing the risk of a heart attack. Pets are an ideal way to beat the blues and lift the spirits as they offer unconditional love and also give their owners a sense of purpose. Pets also combat feelings of loneliness by providing companionship, which can boost your overall mood and even bring you feelings of joy and happiness.
Many pet owners agree that a pet can fill your heart with love. Studies show that having a pet can improve the overall health of the heart too. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted heart-related studies on people who have pets and the findings showed that pet owners exhibit decreased blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels — all of which can ultimately minimise the risk of a heart attack. For heart attack survivors, your pets help you recover better.
So if you’re feeling a little down – emotionally or physically – find someone to give you a hug (best to ask them first). Likewise, if you see someone in need remember that a simple pat on the back, a caress of the arm or a hug can change their mood and make them healthier.