Hugs for Health: Your Way to a Stronger Immune System
Hug Your Way to a Stronger Immune System
In a world that now touts social distancing and separation, studies show the opposite to be true. Human touch plays a crucial role in health, and today, we explore how hugs and other forms of connection can actually promote immune support.
Boost Your Immune System With Hugs
A study run out of Carnegie Mellon University followed over 400 participants to examine the relationship between social support (hugs) in relation to stress and immune resilience. After tracking their hugging contact statistics and their argument statistics, the participants were intentionally exposed to a cold virus and quarantined for two weeks to assess infection and signs of illness. 
The results demonstrated that a greater perceived social support and more frequent hugs resulted in less severe illness symptoms across the board, whether or not individuals had been in arguments. The more significant perceived support and more frequent hugs, each predicted less severe illness signs. These data suggest that hugging may indeed act as an effective means of supporting mental and physical health.
The study chose hugs to illustrate more intimate bonds since hugging suggests a closer connection than typical, less physically personal connections like shaking hands or waving. Perhaps even more intimate relationships may provide equal or more immune boost. Other ways to tap into these benefits could include holding hands, kissing, and cuddling.
Hugging supports the immune system by stimulating the sternum (your breast bone area) and the thymus gland. The thymus gland helps regulate the body’s white blood cell supply, one of your immune system’s key players. 
Other Reasons For Intimacy and Human Connection
1. Boost in Feel-Good Hormones
Hugging, as well as other intimate contacts, causes the body to release bonding hormones, including oxytocin, happy hormones like dopamine and serotonin while reducing stress hormones, including cortisol and norepinephrine. This combination of an increase in happy and bonding hormones with a reduction of stress hormones puts the body in a parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) mode, which has a cascade of benefits for health. 
2. Reduces Stress
When the body is in fight or flight, the sympathetic nervous system is activated. This activation is the body’s involuntary response to dangerous or stressful situations. In this state, various hormones generate a response that includes elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels, all in the name of helping you fight or flee from danger.
Modern lifestyles impose a degree of stress on the mind and body via chemical, emotional, and physical stressors. Being in a constant state of sympathetic domination has dramatic effects on the body. Chronic low-lying stress levels can result in an array of symptoms, including low energy, insomnia, frequent colds, low libido, headaches, irritability, and more.
Physical intimacy, like hugs, cuddling, holding hands, and kissing, can help bring the body out of a sympathetic dominant state and into the parasympathetic (the “rest and digest”).  The link between hugs and stress reduction is the vagus nerve, which is activated by pressure receptors on our bodies. The vagus nerve is stimulated, which carries a cascade of relaxation hormones in your body, thus reducing blood pressure, heart rate, and increases sensations of calm and security. 
3. Improves Microbiome
Your microbiome is a major player in immune health since the latest science believes that most of your immune systems located in your gut. The microbiome encompasses the trillions of microorganisms that inhabit your digestive tract, and they play a role in functions including digestion, satiety and hunger, mood, and immune health. 
Due to lifestyle choices and habits, many people in modern times have a microbiome that contains but a fraction of the diversity needed to thrive. Things like antibiotics, pharmaceutical drugs, stress, poor sleep, bad diet, too much or too little exercise, and insufficient time outdoors can cause the microbiome to narrow with time. 
Luckily, human contact is one way to increase your microbiome!
We often associate human contact with the possibility of contracting germs and viruses, when the flip side of that closeness is that we can also pick up their good bacteria! Staying in close contact with people, like hugging them, can bolster our immune system, not only by challenging it occasionally with bugs but also by exchanging the good bacteria that improve our resilience. 
4. Improves Mental Health
Isolating and chaotic times can prove difficult for mental health, which is why human contact (hugs!) is more important than ever. Hugging can reduce feelings of loneliness, thanks to the bonding hormone oxytocin that is released. Another hormone called dopamine is also released, known as the happy hormone, and helps improve mood, levels of happiness, and pleasure. Mood disorders like depression and anxiety can be linked to lower levels of dopamine. 
5. Reduced Inflammation and Cortisol
A study compared the influence of just 10 minutes of partner contact (cuddling) and its impact on various markers, including plasma oxytocin, norepinephrine, cortisol, and blood pressure. The results, which were compared with 10 minutes of baseline resting alone, and a 10-minute post-contact rest alone, showed a significant positive impact on the parasympathetic nervous system, increased plasma oxytocin, and overall reduction in inflammatory cortisol. 
It is a no brainer: hugging people improve sensations of connection and support. From immune-boosting properties, mental health benefits, the release of serotonin and oxytocin, and more diverse microbiome, hugging may be one of the easiest ways to improve your health in the short and long run. Studies suggest that a six-second hug or cuddle releases the maximum levels of oxytocin and serotonin. 
If You’re Feeling Isolated
During these challenging and possibly quite isolating times, physical touch isn’t always possible. Thankfully, many of the anxiety reduction and relaxation benefits of hugging can be mimicked weighted blankets. Like hugs, weighted blankets promote oxytocin release in the body, a hormone that lowers heart rate, calms nerves, reduces cortisol levels, decreases blood pressure, and boosts mood. 
Using a weighted blanket can be an excellent bridge for anyone who needs a little support during times when it isn’t necessarily available, and promote resilience and health to get you through periods of feeling low. With a well-documented ability to boost sleep quality, weighted blankets also result in a stronger immune system! 
Another way to reap the benefits of human touch when you may not have much access to other people is actually with self-massage. There are various techniques you can use, including:
- Abhyanga: An Ayurvedic technique of self-massage using warm oil promotes skin purification, stress reductions, calms the nervous system, promotes circulation, and lowers cortisol levels.
- Acupressure points: 
- Havening: is a technique that uses gentle motions like sweeping and tapping on the face and body to relax the nervous system. It can also be used in conjunction with traumatic memories to help dissolve associated stress triggers like PTSD. 
Although many of us are experiencing very socially isolating times in the name of “immune protection,”, the science suggests that human contact and intimacy may be the very thing that improves our immune system. By boosting health and happiness hormones like oxytocin and dopamine, while reducing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, the body can shift into a parasympathetic state. The reduction in stress results in a more robust immune system and many other benefits like a boost in mental health and microbiome diversity.
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