If your immune system seems shaky and you find yourself getting zapped with the pesky cold and flu a ton this year, upping your daily hug intake may help keep your healthier and bouncing back faster, according to new research published in the journal Psychological Science from Carnegie Melon University.
The researchers, led by Dr. Sheldon Cohen, a professor of psychology, found that hugs are often seen as a marker of a more intimate, close relationships, and are a behavioral indicator of social support. And because giving and receiving more hugs also lowers amounts of immunity-weakening stress, increasing the amount of embraces you engage in may also helps protect against infection and stave off cold and flu.
When 404 participants were surveyed about the amount of hugs they give and receive, as well as the frequency of interpersonal conflict they experience, then exposed to a common cold virus and monitored in quarantine, those who hugged more often felt they had stronger social support and showed less severe illness along with fewer symptoms, regardless of whether or not they experienced relationship conflicts.
“The apparent protective effect of hugs may be attributable to the physical contact itself or to hugging being a behavioural indicator of support and intimacy,” said Dr. Cohen in a press release. “Either way, those who receive more hugs are somewhat more protected from infection.”
So why does hugging make you feel better? The affectionate squeeze triggers the release of the feel-good hormone oxytocin into the blood stream, which, in addition to melting away stress, can lower blood pressure and even improve memory, according to researchers in Vienna (however, this is only when hugging people you know; these researchers found that the positive effects are lost if both people do not know each other, or the desire to hug is not shared).
Overall, hugs may just be another way to tamp down stress (while making us feel all warm and fuzzy), and that’s a very good thing. Especially when you consider research by scientists at the University of California at San Francisco who discovered telomerase, which is an enzyme that plays a roll in cell aging, and found that reducing stress can actually lengthen lifespan.
Ask yourself today if there’s a friend or two who could use a hug and generously dole some out today, trying to make the cuddles last at least 20 seconds. It could be the thing that helps them ward off a nasty cold or flu and just make you an overall softer-around-the-edges person.