Health Benefits of Hugging, Backed By Science

Hugs can be a surprisingly powerful health booster.

Hugs may have more benefits than you realize

The benefits of hugs go beyond just spreading joy and enjoying a good squeeze with someone you care about. It’s important to note that not everyone feels comfortable with the same level of  physical touch, but, in many cases hugs are thought to positively impact both your mental and physical health. In fact, this is what happens to your body when you get a hug.

Read on for reasons you should get—and give—more hugs on the daily (under appropriate circumstances, and with consent of course).

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parents hugging child

Hugs may boost immunity

If you feel under the weather, hugging may help. A study published in 2014 in the journal Psychological Science found that hugs may help reduce the severity of cold symptoms. Experts from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh intentionally exposed adults in this study to a common cold virus. Then, they examined “the roles of perceived social support and received hugs in buffering against interpersonal stress-induced susceptibility to infectious disease.”

The results? Social support and frequent hugs seemed to predict “less-severe illness signs.”

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couple hugging

Hugs may lower stress

The next time you feel a conflict coming on, you may want to hug it out. A study published in PLOS ONE in 2018 found that “[…]both men and women may benefit equally from being hugged on days when conflict occurs.”

While additional research is needed to more fully support this stress-alleviating idea, it can’t hurt to reap this specific benefit of hugging.

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mom hugging daughter

Hugs may increase your self-esteem

If your self-esteem needs a boost, consider the benefits of hugs. It stands to reason that the feel-good gesture may help a low mood. After all, human touch signifies bonding and social connection. As a result, hugging may bolster your self-esteem by reinforcing your own ability to give and receive love.

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man lifting woman in embrace

Hugging promotes trust

A surge of the hormone oxytocin is yet another benefit of hugging. Oxytocin alleviates stress and promotes relaxation. It may also play a role in your ability to trust and be trusted.

For example, an older study published in Nature, a leading international weekly journal of science, points to an association between oxytocin and a “substantial increase in trust among humans, thereby greatly increasing the benefits from social interactions.”

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mother hugging child

Hugging may reduce depression

Hugging can be critical to emotional well-being and actually helps release our own natural “anti-depressant,” serotonin, according to Deb Castaldo, PhD, a relationship expert in New Jersey. “We also know that hugging our loved ones promotes healthy emotional attachment and intimacy, which is the foundation of a happy, healthy long-term relationship,” she says.

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woman hugging dog

Hugging may be critical for survival, in some cases

While most adults will be fine without a hug (although they are nice), physical touch is sometimes critical to physical and emotional survival. Dr. Castaldo explains that babies, and sometimes even animals, that are deprived of physical touch may become so depressed they stop eating.”This condition is called ‘failure to thrive.’ To boost your well-being and health and ensure happy relationships, get your hugging on,” Dr. Castaldo says. “I recommend hugging until you’re completely relaxed, a minimum of six minutes per day.”

Add six seconds of kissing to the mix, and she says “you’re good to go.”

adult holding baby

Hugging shows appreciation

In a relationship, it’s easy to take your better half for granted. One of the overlooked benefits of hugging is that it can re-affirm your love. “It’s valuable to know that something as simple as time spent touching or hugging can have measurable neuro-biological consequences,” explains Stan Tatkin, PsyD, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Calabasas, California. Hugging can also be a great way to smooth over a disagreement. “Moreover, giving each other the touch you need may well have the capacity to reverse damages,” he says. Plus, giving hugs is one of the many ways to boost your self-confidence instantly.

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  • Psychological Science: "Does Hugging Provide Stress-Buffering Social Support? A Study of Susceptibility to Upper Respiratory Infection and Illness"
  • PLOS ONE: "Receiving a hug is associated with the attenuation of negative mood that occurs on days with interpersonal conflict"
  • Deb Castaldo, PhD, a relationship expert and couples and family therapist in NJ.
  • Stan Tatkin, PsyD, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Calabasas, CA.
  • Nature: "Oxytocin increases trust in humans"
Medically reviewed by Tia Jackson-Bey, MD, on January 08, 2020