National Hug Day: Hugging Can Lower Blood Pressure, Boost Wellbeing, And Enhance Memory

Have you ever felt like you needed a hug? The act of receiving a hug seems to allay our aches and worries for the moment and display an unspoken affection between one another. In addition, hugs have health benefits. The more you hug and the longer you hug, the better the overall benefit. Studies suggest embracing for 20 seconds or more is optimal for attaining the most health improving attributes.

Hugs encourage the release of oxytocin. The hormone is secreted daily in the hypothalamus, stored in the pituitary gland, brought on in response to several influences, and can affect behavior. It promotes pair bonding. When we hug or kiss a loved one, oxytocin levels naturally increase. This hormone is greatly stimulated during sex, childbirth, and breastfeeding.

A University of North Carolina study found that women recorded greater reductions in blood pressure than men after hugs with their partners. They also had lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.

The study’s lead psychologist, Dr. Karen Grewen, wrote in Psychosomatic Medicine:

“Greater partner support is linked to higher oxytocin levels for both men and women. However, the importance of oxytocin and it’s potentially cardio-protective effects may be greater for women.”

Hugging may be an ideal remedy for reducing stress, fear, and anxiety; lowering blood pressure; boosting well-being; and enhancing memory performance. According to researchers, the power of hugs only works when hugged by someone a person knows very well whereas hugging a stranger can have the opposite effect. Unwanted hugs from strangers or casual acquaintances does not release the hormone.

Neurophysiologist Jürgen Sandkühler, Head of the Centre for Brain Research at the Medical University of Vienna, clarifies:

“The positive effect only occurs, however, if the people trust each other, if the associated feelings are present mutually and if the corresponding signals are sent out. If people do not know each other, or if the hug is not desired by both parties, its effects are lost. Studies have shown that children whose mothers have been given extra oxytocin have higher levels of the hormone themselves, i.e. solely as a result of the mother’s behavior.”

National Hug Day or National Hugging Day is celebrated on January 21. Kevin Zaborney and Adam Olis are credited for creating the holiday in 1986. It is officially recognized by the United States Copyright Office but is not a public holiday. The purpose of the event is to encourage people to engage in healthy physical interaction. In 2004, NHD became associates with the Free Hugs Campaign. The Free Hugs Campaign is a social movement involving individuals who offer hugs to strangers in public places, meant to be seen as a random act of kindness. These programs do not endorse behavior that qualifies as sexual harassment at work, so don’t assume everyone participates.