Hugging can be described as a handshake from the heart. The simple action of embracing creates feel-good energy for both the giver and recipient. Science has been looking into its positive effects, and numerous studies related to hugging, cuddling and touching have been reaching the same conclusion: Hugging is a crucial part of human development.
1. Hugging is good for your heart
Embracing activates the hormone oxytocin, which makes us feel all warm and fuzzy. In an experiment at the University of North Carolina, participants who didn't have any contact with their partners developed a quickened heart rate of 10 beats per minute, compared to the five beats per minute among those who got to hug their partners during the experiment. (The slower resting heart rate is healthier, representing a person who is more relaxed and at ease.)
2. Hugging is a natural stress-reducer
If you are feeling a bit drained or pressured, find someone you care about and give them a all-enveloping hug. Research has found that embracing reduces the amount of cortisol (stress hormone) in our bodies, releasing tension and sending calming messages to the brain.
3. Hugging helps babies' and children's development
Touch is critical to infants, especially in their early stages of life as it helps them bond with others as they get older. A study was conducted that compared a group of adopted children whose first years were spent in Romanian and Russian orphanages where they didn’t receive physical contact, to kids who were raised by an affectionate family. Research found that the kids raised in the low-touch orphanages had significantly lower levels of vasopressin—a hormone that plays a role in familial recognition and bonding—compared to their peers.
4. Hugging is good for adults, too
Physical touch and hugging can combat feelings of loneliness that arise as people get older. A retirement home in New York conducted a study in which they implemented a program called ‘Embraceable You.’ The idea was to encourage cross-generational contact and touch between residents and staff members in order to improve the residents’ well being.
The results were conclusive, with residents who were touched or hugged three or more times a day having more energy, feeling less depressed, better able to concentrate and more restful sleep than their less-hugged counterparts.
5. Hugging can make you more mindful
Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh has created a hugging meditation, which can be used to bring more awareness, presence and togetherness into people’s lives. The meditation aims to connect people to each other and to the present moment, with a focus on mindfulness and a powerful awareness of gratitude and love.
6. Hugging can help minimize fears
A study by VU University in Amsterdam looked into the connection between human touch and reducing the fear of mortality in some people. Researchers found that participants were more likely to have less anxiety about death when being lightly touched or hugging an inanimate object like a teddy bear.