Hugging for good health

A few years ago a friend mentioned a saying to me that has seemed to stick with me:

“We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.”

More recently I thought I’d look a little further into this idea of hugging for good health. I have since discovered the saying was originally from Virginia Satir, who is often referred to as a family therapy pioneer. Her resume contains a fairly extensive list of honours and awards – she seemed to know what she was talking about!

So why are hugs so good for our health? Here are a few reasons why…

  • Stimulates the release of Oxytocin – the “love drug”

Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter that acts on the limbic system – the brain’s emotional centre. When we hug someone, Oxytocin is released into our blood stream via the pituitary gland. The benefits of this include a lowering of our heart rate and cortisol (the stress hormone that contributes to high blood pressure and heart disease). A reduce in cortisol levels can also increase your chances of a good nights sleep.

  • Stimulates the release of Dopamine

Dopamine is responsible for that “feel good” feeling and many stimulating drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine target dopamine sensors. Low dopamine levels play a role in neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease as well as mood disorders such as depression.

  • Stimulates the release of Serotonin

High levels of serotonin in the body are associated with feeling significant or important. Conversely loneliness and depression appear when serotonin is deficient. A hug also releases serotonin into the blood stream, which can cause pleasure and reduce sadness.

  • Hugs can also increase your social connections and sense of belonging

So what’s your hug count for today?

Emma Thompson – Physiotherapist – Leap Health Rosny Park