Forget Apples, Get a Hug a Day!

by Kassandra Lamb

A couple weeks ago I made a statement in a post (15 Things To Do By The Time You’re 62) that “hugs are the vitamin C of the heart.” This line struck a chord for many people.

And it is literally true. Just as the vitamin C in an apple bolsters your immune system (thus keeping the doctor away), hugs lower your stress level on a physiological level so that both your mental and physical health are improved.

photo of Derek Jeter hugging Hideki Matsui

Derek Jeter hugging Hideki Matsui in 2010 (photo by Chris Ptacek CC-BY-SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

So instead of (or in addition to) an apple a day, make sure you get a hug a day!

Would you like to know more about why hugs are so good for you? There is a fairly simple scientific explanation for it.

It all revolves around the hormone, oxytocin. This chemical serves many functions in humans. The one that you may be familiar with is the triggering of childbirth. Indeed, when women are having a slow time getting their babies born, doctors use a synthetic form of this hormone, Pitocin, to stimulate labor.

This hormone is also responsible for the letting down of milk during breast feeding, and is probably the biochemical explanation for “maternal instinct.” (Women tend to have higher levels than men, especially right after giving birth.)

Oxytocin has a calming effect and also “promotes affiliate behavior,” which is psychobabble for it makes us want to hang out with and be empathetic and affectionate toward other people.

Okay, all that is important to the preservation of the species, but what’s it got to do with hugs?

Physical affection tends to increase the release of oxytocin in our systems. So hugs mean more of this hormone in our blood streams, calming us down, and making us want to be even more affectionate. Now isn’t that a lovely positive cycle?

4 multi-colored hands grasping each other
Research has also found that oxytocin tends to increase empathy and trust, so it’s good for our relationships in other ways as well. The higher levels in women also explains why women tend to be more physically affectionate than men (in general, as a group; there are plenty of exceptions. Don’t throw things at me).

But don’t despair, gentlemen. The more hugs you get, the more of that nice calming effect you will experience. Also, fathers who actively participate in the care of their infants show significant increases in oxytocin as well, which in turn increases their warm feelings toward their infants (and calms them down/gives them more patience).

And research has found that oxytocin levels are higher, in both partners, during sexual arousal. It also tends to be higher in people who are in the process of falling in love.

So basically this hormone is a major feel-good chemical. And it’s totally natural and free!

Have you had your hug (oxytocin fix) today? Talk to me in the comments. I love hearing from you, because I’m really into that affiliative behavior. 😉

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

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7 thoughts on “Forget Apples, Get a Hug a Day!

  1. K.B. Owen

    I’m a big fan of hugs, though it gets challenging as each boy enters adolescence. They get less “huggy.” Though they’ve learned to put up with their huggy mom. 😉 Fab post, Kass! I always learn such cool things from you. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb

      Yeah, with boys you have to chase them down and tackle them first! But mine’s now 34 (whoa!) and he appreciates hugs very much indeed as an adult. So hang in there, Kathy; there is hope!

      Reply
  2. Jennifer Jensen

    Well, this explains why, when I’m feeling down, all I want is a hug from my hubby! Now all I have to do is find out how to send them long-distance to my elderly widowed mother! Thanks, Kass.

    Reply

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