By Anthea Levi
Nothing is cozier than a hug. Whether it’s a mama-daughter embrace or a sweet squeeze with your significant other, hugs make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. But they do more than make us feel good: Research suggests that hugs can deliver some real health benefits, from easing stress to lowering blood pressure. Here, four ways a warm embrace can be good for both your mind and body.
They help us feel supported
Hugs don’t just bring us closer to others in a literal sense: they also trigger the release of oxytocin, a chemical associated with bonding behaviors. “Studies show that people feel better and more connected to their partner when they hug or touch frequently,” Terri Orbuch, PhD, a relationship expert and author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great, told Health in an email. “When we physically connect through a hug, it makes us feel emotionally and psychologically connected to the other person, it calms us, and it shows support.” No harm in that.
They may lower blood pressure
In addition to promoting intimacy, oxytocin may also influence a key health stat. A small study of 59 premenopausal women published in the journal Biological Psychology found that frequent hugs between the women and their partners were linked to both higher levels of oxytocin and lower blood pressure.
They ease stress
Here’s science-backed proof that a hug from mom is basically unbeatable. When researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine put a group of girls ages 7 to 12 in stressful situations—asking them to give impromptu speeches or solve math problems in front of strangers—the ones who received a hug or phone call from their mothers after the anxiety-provoking experience had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
They may lower your risk of infections
Who knew cuddling could help keep you sniffle-free? In a 2014 study from Carnegie Mellon University, researchers found that stressed-out people (who are more likely to get sick) had a reduced risk of infection after being exposed to a common cold virus if they felt like they had adequate social support in their lives and received more frequent hugs.