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Sara Menges

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About Author — Sara enjoys research, art, and seeking a sustainably fun life, balancing physical and mental health. Read more on how she explores, learns, and balances all her interests at www.saramenges.com.

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These 3 Advantages of Hugs, Pats, or Intimacy May Surprise You

Have you ever wondered why holding hands, a hug, or cuddles can feel so good? From social reasons to health-boosting benefits, read on to find out how touch can be so soothing and increase your longevity.

Why Is Touch Important?

One of the most important parts of human heritage is the need for physical contact. This is especially important at birth when babies need to cry, suckle, and cling to their caregivers to help them survive and create bonding. Once kids are older, touch has been known to help with learning engagement. One study found that students are three times as likely to speak up in class after their teacher pats them in a friendly way.

It’s not only humans that need touch. Primates also often pick at each other’s fur throughout the day. For instance, it has been observed that the gelada baboon grooms for about 17 percent of its waking hours. Among the various reasons why primates do touch each other is to ease tensions among the group in social situations.

The hormone Oxytocin is another benefit of physical touch or acts of cuddling. Oxytocin helps humans connect to others and promotes feel-good sensations that foster a sense of well-being and happiness. Even if we aren’t bonding with babies, adults can still benefit from the various rewards of an oxytocin release with friends, partners, or even animals.

3 Positive Health Manifestations from Touch

The benefits of physical touch, and the biological releases that come with it, go beyond social bonding and can manifest positively in your mental and physical health. Here are some major ways being open to more hugs and hand holding can increase your happiness and longevity.

Inspire positive thinking and expand trust

Known as the "feel good" hormone, oxytocin helps inspire positive thinking and maintaining an optimistic outlook on the world. The role of oxytocin for bonding also extends to helping generate feelings of compassion during interactions. This can contribute to an expansion of trust among individuals during social situations.

Reduce social anxiety and stress

Physical touch increases levels of dopamine and serotonin, two neurotransmitters that help regulate your mood as well as help your body relieve stress and anxiety. Dopamine is also known to regulate the pleasure center in your brain that is a good counter to feelings of anxiety. One study on breast cancer patients found that massage therapy in the form of stroking, stretching, and squeezing helped relax participants and increase dopamine and seratonin levels.

Boost immune system and lower blood pressure

Physical touch is known to improve the function of your immune system as well as reduce diseases such as those associated with the heart and blood. One study on women found that receiving more hugs from their partners led to lower heart rates and blood pressure.

Ways to Get Your Physical Touch Boost

You don’t have to get hugs and cuddles exclusively from a significant other. Heart-to-heart hugs can feel satisfying and invoke the release of oxytocin even when you hug a friend, family member, or pet. Be aware of how much hugs and cuddles the other person is comfortable with. Like humans, pets may also have their preference of touch, so be mindful!

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