Hugs are a very common gesture that offer affection in almost any situation. We offer them as a way to say hello and goodbye, as well as to say congratulations, thank you and I am sorry. And sometimes we just want a hug from someone we love for no particular reason at all. A study led by Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University, may have found that hugs might be more than just a friendly gesture. In the past, research has emphasized that physical contact provides positive effects by shielding the body from stress, ultimately lowering chances of higher rates of heart disease, diabetes and depression.
Sheldon’ study found those who received more hugs were more unlikely of getting sick when stressed. The study dealt with 404 people, all of whom were healthy and exposed to the cold and flu viruses. Researchers studied them over the course of 14 days and collected their times of stress with others, amount of hugs, viral antibodies and mild or severe symptoms.
In 1999 researchers found that those who suffered from stress and who were exposed to the cold and flu viruses had a higher risk of being infected. Cohen explains that though past research has showed a strong social life can benefit one’s health, there aren’t as many answers regarding how being social affects people.
Tiffany Field of Touch Research Institute at University of Miami School of Medicine, disagreed with the study’s inclination that hugs, as well as social support, buffer stress because she saw no direct correlation that stress causes infection. But she does find value in understanding the benefits of touching and physical contact on the body. “We have shown moderate stimulating pressure leads to lower heart rate, lower levels of cortisol, the brain is in the more relaxed state. One would expect that hugging would also do that” says Tiffany.
And though the findings may show health benefits on hugging and physical contact, Cohen is not yet ready to give advice. Cohen states “Our studies are different than the real world. We control for the exposure to the virus…In the real world, there is no controlling exposure”.
Keeping our mental and physical health in shape is the best prescription we can give ourselves. Here are some ways we can keep our mind and body active:
- Connect with others and develop strong relationships
- Take time to enjoy the activities and hobbies you enjoy
- Learn how to deal with your stress
- Volunteer for a cause you are passionate about
- Make sure to get plenty of rest to refresh your body and mind
- Challenge yourself and learn a new skill