Science Says Hugging Keeps You Healthy!

Something I didn’t realize or appreciate until I got older is how intentional my parents were about being a big hugging family when I was growing up, because most of the adults who raised them as kids were not. I guess they had the right idea, because a recent Carnegie Mellon study found that hugging helps keep us healthy! More specifically, feeling physically connected to other humans helps prevent stress-induced illness, and hugging creates a feeling of strong emotional support.For the study, 404 healthy participants filled out a questionnaire about how much social support they have in their lives. According to Scientific American, social support was defined by researchers as “the perception of meaningful relationships that serve as a psychological resource during tough times. More specifically, this means emotional support, such as expressions of compassion, and may include access to information or other assistance.” After that, participants took part in two weeks of interviews that helped researches determine how often the subjects experienced conflict and how often they hugged. Then, researchers infected the study participants with the common cold (apparently that’s a thing that’s allowed in science?!) and put them in quarantine to watch what happened next.A pleasant surprise of the results was that most participants were found to have significant social support, which is a pretty nice thing to hear when news headlines are making it sound like the world is more lonely than ever. Even better, people experienced way more hugs than conflict in their everyday lives — within the two-week period studied, subjects were hugged an average of 68 percent of those days and only experienced conflict on an average of 7 percent of those days. Those with a strong sense of social support had much less severe cold symptoms than those who felt less supported, regardless of how much conflict they faced (the stress of conflict can weaken our immune systems). The more often participants hugged, the less likely they were to fall ill, also regardless of the level of conflict in their lives.

I would’ve assumed that more hugging meant more germs from all that physical contact and more exposure to illness, so I’m kind of loving this news! It’s a great excuse to put a priority on spending more time with people we care about and cultivate deeper connections with new friends in the same way we would prioritize taking our vitamins. If you’re not a person who particularly likes to hug, I don’t blame you one bit — there are lots of reasons that pressing your body into some other human is potentially inappropriate or just not something that fits within your personal boundaries. Maybe other forms of physical contact also conjure feelings of social support and thus strengthen our immune systems. Can you ward off colds by like, having sex instead of hugging? Somebody do that study, please.

[Sage Journals]

[Scientific American]

[Image via Shutterstock]