“We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”      Virginia Satir

What’s the science behind hugging and health?

A study at University of North Carolina showed that when we hug someone for 20 seconds or longer, our body releases oxytocin, a hormone that is linked to social bonding. The release of oxytocin promotes feelings of devotion, trust and empathy, the biological foundation and structure for connecting to other people.

This touch can also lower blood pressure and heart rate. According to Tiffany Field, the director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami in Florida, when we are touched (either through a hug or hand holding) Pacinian corpuscles, just under the skin, receive pressure stimulation and send a signal to the brain. The vagus nerve receives the signal and slows the heart down and decreases blood pressure.

Matt Hertenstein, an experimental psychologist at DePauw University in Indiana, found that holding hands and hugging can measurably reduce stress by reducing the amount of cortisol circulating in our bodies, releasing tension and sending calming messages to the brain.

Want to do something for future generations? Hug them and hold them when they’re little. A University of Wisconsin-Madison study showed that children deprived of touch in the early stages of development had significantly lower levels of vasopressin – a hormone that plays a role in familial recognition and bonding – compared to their peers. And researchers at Emory University found a link between touch and relieving stress, particularly in the early stages of life which can influence how people cope with stress as adults.

It’s important to hug our elders too. Physical touch and hugging can combat feelings of loneliness that arise as people get older. A retirement home in New York conducted a study in which they implemented a program called ‘Embraceable You’ which encouraged cross-generational contact and touch between residents and staff members in order to improve the residents’ wellbeing. The results were conclusive, with residents who were touched or hugged three or more times a day having more energy, feeling less depressed, being better able to concentrate and getting more restful sleep than their less-hugged counterparts.

It’s remarkable that this complex surge of events in the brain and body are all initiated by a simple, supportive touch. So be sure to give and get your quota of hugs today and every day for the benefit of everyone’s health and well being.