A daily dose of vitamin C and regular handwashing are both good methods to boost our immune system. Those simple and effective ways to keep us healthy are important, especially during cold and flu season when we need extra help to fight the spread of illness.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh may have uncovered the simplest and most accessible way to strengthen our immune system – a hug! A good, old-fashioned embrace with a friend or loved one can work wonders. It’s been shown to counteract the effects of stress, which makes us more susceptible to getting sick.
If this isn’t a feel-good message for the New Year, nothing is…
Hug it out for immunity
The research, published in Psychological Science, is based on the notion that hugging provides social support, tightens relationships and reduces stress. Researchers examined questionnaire responses from 404 adults which asked participants to evaluate their perceptions of social support. Participants also took part in 14 consecutive evening telephone interviews to discuss their conflicts with others and hugs they had received that day.
Next, the participants were exposed to the cold virus and kept in quarantine where the researchers evaluated their symptoms of the illness.
The findings were quite remarkable. Participants who noted they had stronger social support during times of conflict and received hugs were less likely to develop a cold. For those participants who did develop a cold, but still had strong social support and received hugs, had far less severe cold symptoms than those who did not receive support or hugs.
The findings reinforce the idea that conflict and stress can wreak havoc on our health, while social support is highly beneficial, protecting us from the psychological harm of stress, such as depression and anxiety.
The researchers also noted that kissing does not pose the same health benefits as hugging. The act of hugging someone you trust creates a sense of security and therefore reduces stress.
Reduce stress for better health
We all have some sort of stress in our lives. Whether it’s paying bills, meeting work deadlines, or completing day-to-day tasks, stress is always present. How we deal with stress can have a huge impact on our health.
The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that stress can affect our musculoskeletal system by causing our muscles to tense, making us more prone to injury. It can also affect our respiratory and cardiovascular systems by making it hard for us to breathe and increasing blood pressure. Other systems which take a hit from stress are the female and male reproductive system, and the nervous and digestive systems.
With stress playing a factor in so many aspects, taking steps to reduce it can improve our lives. If hugging can help, why not?
The Mayo Clinic explains that when we feel strong social support, it creates a sense of belonging, self-worth, and security – all factors that can reduce stress. If your social support is causing anxiety, conflict and possibly leading to unhealthy behaviors, this can do the opposite and create more illness in the long run.
Share the love with family and friends
Along with your usual healthy habits to keep your immune system top-notch, adding in some positive social support, and hugs, can go a long way. You’ll not only live happier, but longer as well, and who doesn’t want those special moments with loved ones for years to come?
Pay it forward! Remember to give back to those who support you; it’s a win-win when it comes to feeling good, emotionally and physically. I’m sure they’ll want the added immune boost that a hug can provide.