College of Dupage Nursing Student Dragica Casillas shared with Healthy Lombard that some people like to shake hands and some people love to hug. It is a totally personal preference, in some cultures, a hug is considered inappropriate. However, hugs are actually shown to be very good for health. People hug when they are happy or sad, when they need comfort, when they are in pain or because it makes them feel good. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the doctor prescribed 12 hugs per day to treat depression, heart problems, or pain? It is likely some would be skeptical of such as prescription and look instead for a pharmacological way to improve health. But does the evidence actually exist that hugging improves health, reduces stress, and prevents illness, leaving a person happier? Moreover, does hugging prevent depression, reduce pain or fear, or lower blood pressure?
According to many studies, hugging is not just a physical bond that helps people feel warm, loved, protected, or bond better with others (Keck, 2020). It has been demonstrated in studies health benefits exist from hugging (Catalyst, 2019). For the health benefits of hugging to occur, it is recommended that it lasts for 20 seconds, and it must be in full contact. One therapist suggests at least four hugs a day to survive, eight hugs per day to maintain health, and at least twelve hugs a day for health growth (Keck,2020). Hugging and physical touching are considered essential for human survival, and they have a huge impact on health( Cirino, 2018).
Study results have demonstrated that hugs play an important role in sustaining health (Colino, 2016). Apparently, during hugging different hormones and signals are released and sent all over the body and brain. One substance called oxytocin is released in the body which decreases stress and increases relaxation. One of the signals gets send to the vagus cranial nerve X, which has control of the heart, lungs, and digestive system. The research shows the Vagus Nerve responds to signals that lower blood pressure and heart rate so hugs have been demonstrated to be good for heart health (Keck, 2020). Conversely, stress is a primary contributing factor to illness because it affects immune system function leaving one prone to disease.
At the same time, according to science, hugging is a factor to consider when someone is depressed. Studies show that nursing home residents who received at least three hugs per day were less depressed, slept better, and had more energy( Cirino, 2018). Another factor the researchers considered was happiness and fears. Scientists found that women who received more frequent hugs from romantic partners were much happier, which was thought to be due to release of the oxytocin, a hormone associated with happiness and feeling” less blue”( Heben,2020). In fact, hugging a human is not even required as studies have shown that hugging or even touching a teddy bear can reduce fear and boost self-esteem.
During the pandemic during a recent era of social distancing, lockdowns, quarantine, and other measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, mental health and depression have been on the rise. Many grandparents or parents, kids, and grandkids, and friends have not been able to hug their loved ones in more than a year. During this past year, although hugging was considered one of the most important medicines for society, it refrained. Depression, anxiety, stress, loneliness, fear, and many other health problems are on the rise due to a lack of personal touch or hugs. When physical contact or hugs are limited or eliminated one’s life, stress, depression, and many other illnesses increase. The importance of physical touch and hugs plays a big role in everyday life; more hugging results in a better and healthier life.
Light, K. C., Grewen, K. M., & Amico, J. A. (2005). More frequent partner hugs and higher oxytocin levels are linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate in premenopausal women. The Power of Hugs and How They Affect Our Daily Health | SCL Health Biological Psychology, 69(1), 5–21. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsycho.2004.11.002
Uvnas-Moberg, K., & Petersson, M. (2005). Oxytocin, ein Vermittler von Antistress, Wohlbefinden, sozialer Interaktion, Wachstum und Heilung [Oxytocin, a mediator of anti-stress, well-being, social interaction, growth and healing]. Zeitschrift fur Psychosomatische Medizin und Psychotherapie, 51(1), 57–80. https://doi.org/10.13109/zptm.2005.51.1.57