The surprising benefits of hugging (and how many you actually need)

Whether it’s from your parter, family, friends or a pet - a few hugs a day can do wonders for your brain and body.

The surprising benefits of hugging (and how many you actually need)
We all know a proper hug feels good. But it turns out squeezes of affection actually pack a powerful punch when it comes to your wellbeing. Yep, science says hugs are more than just a friendly greeting – they're a powerful tool to reduce stress, boost happiness, and strengthen connections.
But how many hugs are we talking about here? Therapist Virginia Satir famously said, "We need four hugs a day for survival, eight hugs for maintenance, and twelve hugs for growth." So how many hugs do you actually need to feel better?

The science behind hugs

Hugs trigger the release of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes feelings of love and safety. Oxytocin, often referred to as the "cuddle hormone" or “love hormone”, helps lower stress levels, reduce blood pressure, and improve mood. It helps lowers the level of cortisol, making you feel calmer and more centered.
One study found that people who receive frequent hugs are less likely to fall ill due to stress-related conditions and highlighted how social support and physical touch can buffer against stress and its negative effects on health.
Long hugs with loved ones also release endorphins which are chemicals that relieve stress and pain and promote feelings of happiness and euphoria.
Hugs can also make you feel more connected to the people you care about. Physical touch releases oxytocin in both the giver and receiver, fostering a sense of closeness and trust. It's like a silent "I care about you" that strengthens your social bonds.

Benefits of hugging

  1. Reduces Stress Hugging reduces the stress hormone, cortisol, making you feel more relaxed and less stressed. One study found the more hugs you receive, the less stressed you are.
  1. Boosts Immune System The physical act of hugging can stimulate your immune system by increasing the production of white blood cells. Hugs help increase circulation and help balance our sympathetic (fight/flight/freeze) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous systems.
  1. Enhances Relationships Regular hugging strengthens bonds and promote feelings of trust and bonding, which strengthens relationships and makes you feel more connected. They also help reduce conflict in relationships.
  1. Promotes Mood and Happiness The release of oxytocin and serotonin during hugs can enhance your mood. It also triggers the release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter that can elevate your mood and combat feelings of anxiety
  1. Improves Heart Health Studies have shown that hugging can lower blood pressure, which is beneficial for heart health.

How many hugs do we need?

So, how many hugs a day should you aim for to reap these benefits? According to family therapist Virginia Satir, "We need 4 hugs a day for survival, 8 hugs for maintenance, and 12 hugs for growth." This suggests that four hugs per day was an antidote for depression, eight hugs per day would achieve mental stability and twelve hugs per day would achieve real psychological growth. But regardless of the number of hugs, each heartfelt hug will do you the world of good - especially longer hugs with loved ones.

How long should a hug be?

Does the length of the hug matter? There’s no definitive answer in science, but the the general consensus is that for the full benefits of a hug to be felt, it should last for at least 4-20 seconds for oxytocin to be triggered in the body. Extended hugging (20 seconds or more) has been shown to boosts your serotonin levels, causing you to feel happy and more positive emotions overall.

So, how can you get your daily dose of hugs?

Even if you’re not a ‘hugger’, you can still get your dose of human connection to boost your wellbeing to reap the benefits of hugging.
  • Hug loved ones: Partners, family, friends – whoever you feel comfortable with - as much as you can. Whether that’s when you’re greeting them or relaxing with them.
  • Hug pets: Studies show that petting animals can also release oxytocin, so giving them a hug will count as 1 of your 4 a day.
  • Holding hands or touching arms : Even a friendly touch can provide a mini-dose of oxytocin, so if you’re not a hugger you can still get the benefits of hugging in other forms of physical touch.
Hugging is a simple, natural, and effective way to improve your wellbeing. By aiming for at least four hugs a day, you can reduce stress, feel calmer, and foster deeper connections with the people around you. So, don't underestimate the power of a good hug – it's an easy habit that can lead to significant improvements in your mental and physical health.

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