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The Science of Hugs


hug candy valentineIt’s Valentine’s Day! A day all about appreciating the ones we love, which can include giving gifts, having special meals, and spending time together. But none of those would mean as much without a big ol' hug!

Hugs from loved ones and friends make us feel good - we feel more connected and supported. But the benefits don’t stop there.

Science tells us that hugs can actually make us healthier.


For example, hugs make us less stressed. Now, we think of stress as a bad thing, but evolutionarily it’s really quite ingenious. The hormones released during stress help us to be at our peak in fight or flight situations, like running from a lion (back in the old days). Our heart rate increases, blood pressure goes up, muscles get energized, and you even think more clearly.

lion causes stressMost of us aren't trying to escape from lions nowadays. Today stress is more likely to be the day to day worries we carry around with us.

Neurologist Robert Sapolsky says, "For 99 percent of the beasts on this planet, stress is about three minutes of screaming in terror after which it’s either over with or you’re over with.  And we turn it on for 30-year mortgages.”

The effects of having our bodies bathed in stress hormones long term are devastating. Along with increased heart rates and prolonged high blood pressure, other nonessential systems get turned off, like your digestion, growth, and notably, your immune system.

When your body is always in high gear, the risks go up for diabetes, digestion issues, heart problems, and susceptibility to illness.


girls hugThe challenge is to find ways to turn off those stress signals and give our bodies a break. Valentine’s Day is a chance to try out one of the best ways – hugging.

Turns out hugs reduce stress both directly, and psychologically. The benefit of hugs may seem obvious on an emotional level, but let's take a look at the science too:

  • Hugs involve putting pressure on the skin, which contains receptors called Pacinian corpuscles. These little bio triggers send signals to a nerve bundle in the brain called the vagus nerve. A hug tells the vagus nerve to slow down the heart, which then decreases blood pressure.

  • Hugging makes us feel part of a supportive social network. According to the World Health Organization, feeling part of a community is a major determinant of health. A recent study shows evidence that hugging conveys social support, which is directly linked to healthier immune systems, and better antibody responses to vaccines. Hugs can literally help to ward off the common cold!

  • Hugging decreases the stress hormone cortisol, calming us down.

    girl hugs dog
  • Hugging triggers the release of the hormone oxytocin, which promotes feelings of trust, bonding and loyalty. Known affectionately as the ‘cuddle hormone’, this little chemical is the foundation for human connection.
So there you have it:  hugging is good for your health! And for you pet lovers out there, hugging and contact with your pet counts, so take time for cuddles from your dog and cat too!

Chelsea Schuyler
Chelsea Schuyler