Lots of us take our mental and physical health seriously and we try to improve our daily lives with exercise, a good diet, even supplements. But theres one simple treatment that is often over-looked and its been shown through scientific studies to be an effective way to keep our heart and mental health on target. What is this magic bullet?
The power of the simple hug.
In fact, studies show that folks who are regularly hugged by their close friends and family have reduced heart rates, lower blood pressure, increased nerve activity and more upbeat moods. A survey of successful marriages even showed that hugging and touching (not sexual intercourse), were the key factors in keeping the relationship long-lasting.
A recent Canadian study shows that an affectionate cuddle is more beneficial in bringing up positive emotions and improving our frame mind than regularly visiting the church. Another study showed that people who got regular hugs were twice as likely to describe their mental health as first rate.
Plus, a loving hug in the morning, researchers say, can keep you buoyant throughout the day. Just a brief hug or 10 minutes of handholding with a romantic partner greatly reduces the harmful physical effects of stress. Loving contact before a tough day at work "could carry over and protect you throughout the day," says psychologist Karen Grewen with the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill who conducted the study.
In her study, 100 adults with spouses or long-term partners were told to hold hands while viewing a pleasant 10-minute video. They were then asked to hug for 20 seconds. Another group of 85 rested quietly without their partners.After the ten minutes, the studys participants were asked to speak for few minutes about a recent event that made them angry or stressed out. Research has shown that just asking people to talk about stressful events drives up heart rate and blood pressure. But heres what the researchers discovered about the power of the hug: Blood pressure soared in the no-contact people. Their systolic (upper) reading jumped 24 points, more than double the rise for huggers, and their diastolic (lower) also rose significantly higher. Heart rate increased 10 beats a minute for those without contact compared with five beats a minute for huggers. Both men and women were seen to have higher levels of oxytocin after the hug. People in loving relationships were found to have higher levels of the hormone than others. All women had reduced levels of cortisol following the hug, as well as reporting the blood pressure benefits.But this isnt the first time scientists have recorded the power of hand holding and hugging. It turns out were "hard-wired" to thrive as social animals. Tiffany Field of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical School said her research also showed hugs lower the output of cortisol, a stress hormone. When cortisol dips, there's a surge of two "feel good" brain chemicals, serotonin and dopamine.
Unlike in other cultures, Amercians aren't particularly "touchy-feely" in public, Field says. Her studies in U.S. and Parisian cafes show that French couples spend about three times as much time touching as Americans.But maybe its time to change our approach to hugging. If you have any doubts that hugging is worth the tender effort, this might convince you to reach out and pull a loved one closer:Top Ten Benefits of Hugging 1. Costs nothing2. Boosts your immune system3. Builds self-esteem4. Fosters self-acceptance5. Alleviates tension6. Helps curb appetite7. Saves heat8. Is portable9. Requires no special setting or equipment10. Feels greatRobin Westen in ThirdAges medical reporter. Check her updates daily. She is the author of The Big Book of Relationship Quizzes.See what others have to say about this story or leave a comment of your own.