One of the commonest activities in any social gathering is hugging, no matter the type of gathering whether to celebrate or mourn. However, I am convinced that very few of us have really thought about the effects of hugging; I never thought of it until very recently. Yet the benefits are numerous and evidence based. Several researchers in several universities have done a lot of studies on the health benefits of hugging. These benefits are due to rise or fall in some hormone levels stimulated directly or indirectly by hugging.
However, for hugging to have the desired effect, it should be firm and a bit long. A flimsy hugging has no effect.
Some of these benefits are listed below:
1.Improves intimacy with loved ones
Hugging increases or assures the intimacy with the one you care for or love. Hugging your spouse whenever the need arises or whenever the opportunity arises strengthens your intimacy, reassures your partner. For example, your first meeting in the morning, on travelling, on arrival from work, from a trip; the opportunities are numerous. This is due to the release of OXYTOCIN, the “bonding hormone”.
2.Gives social support
Hugging gives emotional support especially in adversity. It gives the person hugged the feeling that “I am with you in your pain, in your sorry, in your adversity”. It lifts the spirit of the person hugged; this again is due indirectly to oxytocin which is said to increase the levels of “feel good” hormones in the body; Serotonin and Dopamine. A 2010 study by researchers in animals at the Ohio State University, Illinois, USA, found that when stimulation in them to oxytocin was reduced, they became depressed.
Thus, hugging someone in sorry reduces the depression and anxiety of the person hugged, it has a calming effect.
Hugging relieves stress; as said earlier, hugging causes the release of oxytocin by a part of the brain, the oxytocin in turn reduces the blood levels of two stress causing hormones: cortisol and norepinephrine. According to study by Tiffany at the University of Miami medical school, USA, hugging stimulates the vagus nerve which ultimately gives the body a calming effect through increase in oxytocin level. A 2011 study at the University of North Caroline school of medical, Chapel Hill, USA involving women who just delivered, it was found that higher levels of oxytocin reduced their cardiovascular and sympathetic systems response to stress; the sympathetic system in our body releases hormones which make us respond the way we do in time of freight and other emotional situations.
This explains the usual hugging of those going to give a speech, make a presentation or going in for an examination, it is the calm, cool and collected effect that it gives.
4.Reduces heart rate
Hugging reduces the heart rate of the person hugged, which is beneficial. This again is due to oxytocin whose level is increased by hugging.
5.Reduces blood pressure
Hugging also reduces the blood pressure of the person hugged due to the calming of oxytocin; the diastolic blood pressure (the bottom figure) is more affected. A 2005 study at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, USA found that premenopausal women who were regularly hugged had lower blood pressure than their peers who were hugged less.
Hugging is also said to increase the pain threshold, thus it reduces the feeling of pain or thus hugged can bear more pain. A 2015 study at King’s College, London found that oxytocin had pain-relieving effect, participants were given oxytocin and subjected to pain and perception of intensity of recorded.
7.Increases immunity against diseases such as cold
Hugging increases our resistance to ill health particularly the common cold. One way it does it is by the reduction of stress which is associated with common cold.
A 2015 study at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, USA with 404 health adult participants found that hugging gave some protection against common cold. Participants were all exposed to the common cold virus; it was found that those who were regularly hugged had less cold infection by about 32 percent than those who were not hugged; even among those who were regularly hugged but still had the symptoms of cold, those who were more frequently hugged had less severe symptoms.
Hugging is also said to reduce inflammation. A study in animals has shown that high oxytocin levels reduce inflammation following heart attack or stroke
Also a 2010 Ohio State University showed that regular hugging made wounds of those hugged heal quicker due higher levels of oxytocin.