There is nothing like the warmth of an embrace by someone you love. Hugs are a wonderful form of medicine and a kind that gives and receives reciprocally. The energy felt between two people hugging can be electric and, we’re happy to report, it’s good for your heart as well. Just in time for Heart Health Month and Valentine’s Day, here’s a look at why hugs are good for your heart.
A recent study from the University of North Carolina shows that hugs are extremely beneficial to women. While there are advantages for men as well, women in particular get the most out of hugging. The research indicates that women who engage in a hug release oxytocin, a hormone responsible for feelings of social connection. For human beings, social interaction is an essential part of our wellbeing. Oxytocin plays a large role in helping us fulfill this inherent need.
If oxytocin sounds familiar to you it’s probably because it is the same hormone that is released during lactation. That’s why breastfeeding often helps mothers reduce or avoid post-partum depression and bond with their babies faster. Oxytocin can help regulate blood pressure levels and heart rate as well.
Additionally, women’s cortisol levels drop after hugging. Cortisol is a stress hormone that can raise blood pressure and affect many areas of health. Some cortisol is good because it helps with the body’s natural fight or flight stress response. However, too much cortisol or prolonged exposure can be very damaging to the body, especially the heart.
The study tested women’s oxytocin and cortisol levels after a 20-second hug with their partners, reflecting on happy times in their relationship and watching a short romantic video. Oxytocin was highest and cortisol was lowest during the hug as opposed to the other loving moments. The conclusion was therefore that the physical embrace – the need for touch – outweighs other expressions of love.
Higher oxytocin and lower cortisol that helps the heart, in turn aids many other areas of the body. Hugging is good for the immune system, central nervous system and relaxes muscles. Hugs and the sensation of touch can actually be stored at cellular levels that help maintain self-esteem throughout our lives. Plus, hugs make us feel safe, loved, happy, honest and open, and connected, which are all tremendous for our mental and emotional wellbeing.
As Valentine’s Day approaches and now that you know why hugs are good for your heart, find ways to linger in the embrace of someone you love. Make an effort to touch your loved ones spontaneously by hugging, holding hands, cuddling or otherwise being close to one another. Your heart and someone else’s will enjoy the benefits!