Linda Lewis Griffith

Hug more: It’s great for your health

Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, is National Hugging Day.
Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, is National Hugging Day. KRT

National Hugging Day is Saturday. It’s an annual event that puts hugging in the spotlight and encourages people to hug friends and family members more often.

National Hugging Day, first celebrated in 1986, is the brainchild of Kevin Zaborney. He chose that date because it fell halfway between Christmas and Valentine’s Day, and because winter is a time when people’s spirits often need a boost.

Besides being fun and feeling yummy, hugging is great for your health. In a 2015 study involving 404 healthy adults, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University found that subjects who felt they had strong support systems and reported getting lots of hugs were less likely to catch a cold than those who were isolated and lonely. Even when hugged subjects became sick, they had less severe symptoms than those in the nonhugged group.

A warm embrace stimulates the release of oxytocin, a hormone that makes us feel warm and fuzzy. According to DePauw University psychologist Matt Hertenstein in a 2010 interview with NPR, “Oxytocin is a neuropeptide, which basically promotes feelings of devotion, trust and bonding.”

It also decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

“This friendly touch buffers the physiological consequences of a stress response,” Hertenstein said.

Hugs slow the heart and decrease blood pressure. A study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill showed that participants who didn’t have any contact with their partners developed a faster heart rate than those who got to hug their loved ones during the experiment.

Another good thing about hugs? They benefit huggers and huggees alike. Research conducted by Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, revealed that people who give massages experience as great a reduction in stress hormones as those on the receiving end.

Of course, not all hugs are created equal. We may have been in situations where we didn’t want to be touched or were embraced by a creepy hugger. If we have any doubts, it’s best to ask first before enfolding someone in our arms.

But in the right time and place, hugging’s a big winner for everyone involved. So let’s celebrate National Hugging Day with the big hugs it deserves.

Linda Lewis Griffith’s column is special to The Tribune. She is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit www.lindalewisgriffith.com.

How to get more hugs:

  • Make hugging a habit. Hug your kids, spouses and good friends whenever you get the chance.
  • Get a massage. Treat yourself to a professional massage on a regular basis.
  • Greet others with open arms. Demonstrate your huggability with both your body language and your words.
  • Ask loved ones and acquaintances for hugs. Don’t be shy. Playfully announce, “Hey, I need a hug!” Then open your arms. They’ll be happy to comply.
  • Spend time stroking your pet. Touching that furry friend has many of the same perks as getting a human hug.
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