This Valentine's Day, we have an important health tip for you—give someone a hug.
"Hugs can have a variety of health benefits," says Matt Hockett, MD, Fairview Clinics – Bass Lake. "Hugging can ease stress, promote better relationships, improve sleep and much more."
But how exactly can hugs have these health effects on the human body?
"Physical contact like hugging helps raise oxytocin levels," says Dr. Hockett. "Oxytocin is a hormone that is often released during nursing and at the end of pregnancy. Some people call it the 'love hormone.'"
That's not to say men can't benefit from hugs, too.
"There’s been some research about whether hugs can decrease blood pressure and heart rate," says Dr. Hockett. "Studies have shown that these effects may actually be stronger in men than women."
Research also shows that touch—like hugs, a massage or even a handshake—can enhance immune function and increase alertness, according to the Touch Research Institute.
Along with reducing stress, hugs can relieve feelings of loneliness and depression, and improve people's mood.
"The oxytocin produced from hugs can promote better attachment to others," says Dr. Hockett. "Hugs give people a sense of being part of a pack and belonging to others, which helps people not feel as lonely."
In some cases, hugging even helped people's ability to connect with others.
"There have been studies that show children with autism have better interpersonal relationships if they have higher oxytocin levels,” says Dr. Hockett. “So this could mean that hugs can help relationships between people.”
While Dr. Hockett encourages hugs, he also warns against spreading disease—especially during flu season.
"Hugs do have plenty of health benefits, but for the sake of flu season—and respecting others' space—please don't go around giving random strangers hugs!" says Dr. Hockett.
Whoever your valentine, keep them close this Valentine's Day with a hug. Your health may benefit from it!
If you're sick this Valentine's Day, visit one of our urgent care clinics or call 855-FAIRVIEW to make an appointment with one of our primary care physicians.