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10 Health Benefits Of Hugging, Backed By Science

Ashley Uzer, MBA
Author: Medical reviewer:
March 26, 2020
Ashley Uzer, MBA
By Ashley Uzer, MBA
mbg Contributor
Ashley Uzer, MBA, is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer focused on sex and relationships. She has a degree in Design & Merchandising from Drexel University and a Master’s in Business Administration from American University. Her writing has been published in Vice, DC Magazine, Bustle, Hello Giggles, and elsewhere.
Bindiya Gandhi, M.D.
Medical review by
Bindiya Gandhi, M.D.
Dr. Bindiya Gandhi is an American Board Family Medicine–certified physician who completed her family medicine training at Georgia Regents University/Medical College of Georgia.
March 26, 2020

Have you been hugged today?* It might seem like a silly question, but the benefits of hugging can be nearly as beneficial as the benefits of your other healthy habits like exercise, meditation, and more. Here are all of the proven benefits of reaching out to someone for a warm embrace:

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1. Hugging can be good for your cardiovascular health.

Regular hugging—or warm contact in general—might be good for your heart, particularly when it comes to keeping your blood pressure under control in stressful situations. One study in the 1Behavioral Medicine1 journal1 had a group of people hold hands with their partner for 10 minutes and then hug for 20 seconds before being sent off to do a public speaking task (aka most people's biggest fear). Another group of people just rested quietly before being sent into the public speaking task. The people who'd gotten the physical contact beforehand had lower blood pressure and lower heart rate increases in response to the stressful situation than the people who hadn't gotten any touch.

2. Hugging promotes bonding in all our relationships.

According to integrative neurologist Ilene Ruhoy, M.D., Ph.D., hugging promotes closeness between people. "The physiologic changes that accompany the human touch are thought to be related to an exchange of energy in the form of electrons," she tells mbg. "The act of hugging also releases oxytocin stored in the pituitary gland, which is often affectionately referred to as the 'love hormone' because it helps us bond with our newborns. That feeling of love, familiarity, and fellowship is why we have the instinct to hug our children, our parents, and our friends."

Studies have shown2 that newborns who aren't held regularly often have difficulty with growth and development later in life, and those who get more affectionate touch from their caregivers have stronger brain responses3. And it's not just babies who crave that touch: Los Angeles–based licensed psychologist Ron Kaufman, Psy.D., tells mbg that when we have low oxytocin levels, our bodies may clumsily bump into others as a way of hoping to raise these levels.

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3. Hugging can improve romantic relationships, specifically.

Oxytocin, the main hormone released during orgasm, is also released from hugging. Also known as the "cuddle hormone," oxytocin tends to get the blame when we find ourselves feeling attached to our latest Tinder date. But its bonding ability makes hugging and physical touch some of the most important building blocks of a strong connection in a relationship. Among couples, physical touch is associated with feeling more secure4 in the relationship, and, in particular, hugging has been linked with relationship satisfaction5. That oxytocin from warm contact makes people feel more supported6 by their partner as well. 

4. Hugs can lower stress.

Do you ever hug a friend, family member, or partner after a long day and think, "Wow, I really needed this"? You may literally be feeling your heartbeat slow down and your brain calming down.

"Hugging stimulates the healing parasympathetic nervous system," physiologist and sleep therapist Nerina Ramlakhan, Ph.D., tells mbg. "We produce the well-being hormones of oxytocin and serotonin, which create feelings of inner safety and trust." Some research has even found interpersonal touch can lower our cortisol secretion7 in response to stressful situations. 

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5. They can also generally improve psychological well-being.

Many studies suggest hugging can help minimize negative emotions and supports a more positive state of being. A 2015 study8 found people experiencing distress who received affectionate touch from their partners felt more supported, even when their partner didn't know they needed emotional support. Another study9 found people who received more touch from their partner or gave their partner touch more frequently experienced better mood, more intimacy as a couple, and better psychological well-being over time.

6. Touch (including hugs) can communicate emotions.

Never underestimate the power of nonverbal communication. People can convey a lot of information just through physical touch alone, particularly affectionate touch like hugging. One study10 in the journal Emotion found even strangers could communicate emotions like happiness, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, gratitude, and sympathy just through touch alone. That's pretty amazing!

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7. Hugging can defuse fights between a couple.

Does fighting with your partner make it impossible for you to focus on anything else for the rest of the day or simply make it tough for you to keep in good spirits? A 2018 study11 found hugging can actually help make sure fights don't ruin our day. Researchers surveyed over 400 adults in relationships every night for two weeks about how often they hugged their partner, how often they fought, and what their emotional state was like each day. They found that, for couples who hugged each other on the same day as a fight, the fight had less of a negative impact on their mood both that day and the next. In other words, hugging buffered the negative effects of getting into an argument and allowed couples to stay positive in the face of conflict.

Some research5 even suggests people who hug more often tend to be better at resolving conflicts.

8. More frequent hugs can boost your immune system.

While you definitely don't want to go around hugging people when you're feeling under the weather, getting enough hugs may help you avoid catching a cold in the first place. A 2014 study12 published in the journal Psychological Science exposed 404 healthy adults to a common cold-causing virus and found that those who were hugged more frequently were less likely to get sick and had less severe symptoms if they did.

"Research from psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) shows that hugging can boost levels of natural killer cells, lymphocytes, immunoglobulins, and other immune-boosting cells," Ramlakhan explains. And as Cole also notes, all that oxytocin produced from hugging supports your T-regulatory cells13, which help keep your immune system strong14.

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9. They may even dull pain for people with chronic conditions.

Not only can a hefty dose of hugs help you avoid a scratchy throat or runny nose, but some studies suggest hugging might be physically beneficial for people with certain chronic conditions. Research has shown healing touch may help cancer patients perceive less pain15, in addition to lowered blood pressure and fatigue. Another study found similar benefits in people with fibromyalgia syndrome, who experienced a decrease in pain and an increase in quality of life after therapeutic touch treatments.

Of course, therapeutic touch is generally more than just a hug. It generally involves a practitioner passing their hands over a patient's body or some form of massage. (There also isn't consensus on whether physical touch is an appropriate action for a doctor to take with their patients. "It's appropriate for us to seek permission to supportively touch a client," Kaufman notes. "Especially given that even the offer to hug someone raises that client's oxytocin level.")

10. They can actually keep you looking and feeling young.

If you're looking to add something new to your anti-aging routine, Ramlakhan suggests giving and getting more hugs in addition to that fancy new eye cream. "Hugging can have anti-aging advantages because of the effect on the well-being hormones," she explains.

The increase in production of certain hormones while hugging—oxytocin and serotonin, in particular—can lead one to get better sleep and to make healthier choices overall, which can lead to reduced signs of aging.

With all these pretty miraculous benefits just from wrapping your arms around someone (and vice versa), it's not a stretch to say that we could probably all use some more warm embraces in our lives.

And in case you were wondering...there are a lot of benefits of kissing, too.

*In this time of COVID-19, it's very important that we keep our distance from those that are sick and/or the people you live with to stop the spread of the coronavirus. But if the people you live with aren't ill, we highly recommend a hug.