Sometimes it is the simplest ideas that can make the biggest impact in our lives. For example, have you ever thought about the benefits of hugging? Hugs can increase our happiness and reduce the stress in our lives. They can also help to reinforce our most important social bonds. So, if hugs are so important, why aren’t we getting enough of them?
We All Need to Experience the Benefits of Hugging
In many ways, baby boomers are more connected than ever. Most of us have dozens, if not hundreds, of Facebook friends. We chat with our grandkids on Skype – or, in my case, have ice-cream parties over Skype. We are embracing online dating. Our purses and bags are filled with buzzing, blinking and humming electronic devices, all designed to keep us up to date and connected.
Unfortunately, in an increasingly fast-paced world, many baby boomers are missing out on one of the most important gestures available to man – the humble hug.
Here are 4 powerful reasons that baby boomers, and everyone else for that matter, should seek out hugs every day.
Hugs Are Happiness Magnets
Have you ever noticed how much better you feel after a good hug? That’s no accident. Several studies have shown that oxytocin, a chemical that helps us feel happy, is created when we cuddle. It’s almost like our bodies want to reward us when we get close to others.
You don’t even need to hug a person to get a happiness boost. Studies have shown that stroking a pet can produce the same kind of oxytocin boost. So, if you feel like the people in your life aren’t giving you your daily dose of oxytocin, why not consider getting a new furry friend?
Cuddles Put the Squeeze on Stress
Despite the stereotypes about “aging gracefully,” life after 60 can be pretty stressful. Most of us are still navigating our careers. Our children, while not necessarily living at home, are always on our minds. Staying in shape is a challenge. Is it any wonder that we are stressed out so much of the time?
Well, I have good news! Cuddles can put the squeeze on stress. According to researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, hugging, or even just holding hands, can significantly reduce stress.
As Tiffany Field, Ph.D, of the University of Miami Medical School, said, “The gentle pressure of a hug can stimulate nerve endings under the skin that send calming messages to the brain and slow the release of cortisol.”
Hugs Bring People Together
Cuddles may do more than help you to feel happier and healthier. They may also help you to build stronger friendships with the people that are important to you.
As reported in the New York Times, hugs can create stronger emotional connections between people. Even a friendly touch on the arm can positively change the way that we look at someone.
Not every social situation is going to call for a bear hug. If you have just met someone, it’s probably safer to go supportively touch their arm. But, what this research shows is that most forms of caring touch are beneficial.
We just need to overcome our fear and embrace the power of touch.
Hugs Keep You Healthy
Researchers are only just now beginning to uncover the potential health benefits of hugs. In one study, Carnegie Mellon researchers found that hugs may help to protect against both stress and infection.
The researchers interviewed 404 volunteers over a 2-week period. Among other things, they asked how often the participants received hugs. At the end of the 2 week period, the participants were intentionally exposed to a cold virus. The results showed that social support, in general, and hugs, specifically, helped to protect some of the participants against infection.
According to another study, the benefits of frequent hugs could be especially relevant for postmenopausal women. Researchers concluded that frequent hugs from a partner our spouse were associated with lower blood pressure and higher oxytocin levels among participating postmenopausal women.
In the 1960s and 1970s, many of us looked for peaceful solutions to difficult problems. Now, as we reach our 50s and 60s, we have an opportunity to do the same with our health. Let’s make cuddles a part of our daily routine. Let’s reach out and touch someone! Let’s make hugs, not war!
Do you go out of your way to give friendly hugs? Why or why not? Do you ever feel embarrassed inviting someone in for a big hug, even if they are a close friend? Please join the conversation.
Here’s a short video that I recorded on the benefits of hugging.