Want a healthier Valentine’s Day?more hugs and kisses


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MoMo Productions/DigitalVision, Getty Images

Want a healthier Valentine’s Day?more hugs and kisses

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MoMo Productions/DigitalVision, Getty Images(MoMo Productions/DigitalVision, Getty Images)

Too much Valentine’s Day candy can be bad for your health. But the hugs and kisses of a heart-centered holiday are another story.

“We crave social connection and human connection,” said Ashley Thompson, a social psychologist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth. “Hugging and kissing are a big part of that, and we know they’re very beneficial for a number of reasons.”

First, a caveat: both people in the equation must fully agree to interact. Be careful who you share germs with, whether it’s flu season or during an ongoing pandemic.

But if all of these conditions are met, says Corey Floyd, a professor of communications at the University of Arizona in Tucson, “expressing love not only feels good psychologically or emotionally, but it interferes with our physiology.”

In addition to burning a few calories per minute, kissing may be good for heart health. A 2009 study published in the Western Journal of Communication divided couples into two groups, one of which was asked to intensify their romantic kissing. After six weeks, the enhanced kissers reported less stress, more satisfying relationships — and lower cholesterol. Other research suggests that cuddling with your significant other may lower blood pressure.

The key to positive outcomes is hormones, says Freud, who studies the effects of affectionate behavior.

“When we share feelings with someone, it lowers our stress hormones,” he says. “One of them is cortisol, which comes from the adrenal glands. When we’re stressed, our cortisol levels go up, and emotion can bring them back to baseline levels. If those, it can also reduce blood pressure and an elevated heart rate. “

Hugs and kisses also engage the brain. “This releases oxytocin, which helps promote binding,” Thompson said. “The more oxytocin, the stronger our bonds with our partners. Without oxytocin, we couldn’t make those bonds.” That’s why oxytocin is often referred to as the hugging chemical, she says.

Human contact and kissing also produce higher levels of dopamine, a hormone that produces reward and pleasure. “It’s like a pleasure drug,” Thompson said.

Take that feeling away, Floyd said, “people don’t sleep well either. They have more severe physical pain and are more susceptible to secondary immune disorders, depression and other mood disorders.”

A 2020 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine underscores this point, noting that older adults who are isolated or lonely may be at higher risk for heart disease and depression.

Other research, published in Psychological Science in 2014, assessed stress levels in more than 400 adults and how often they received hugs. Then they exposed them to cold viruses. Compared to those who reported multiple hugs, people who were deprived of hugs got sick more frequently and more seriously.

While affection may be a good prescription, there is no recommended daily dose, Floyd said.

“We don’t all need the same amount of sleep or eat the same amount of food to stay healthy,” he said. “We don’t all need the same amount of affection to feel fulfilled and connected. But just like sleep and food, everyone needs some.”

The pandemic has reinforced the importance of physical contact at a time when many people have been quarantined and quarantined for extended periods of time.

“People went through a big retreat,” Thompson said. “I guess the silver lining is that it forces us to be creative.”

Floyd agreed. “Those who have felt deprived of course have suffered a lot, but people who haven’t been deprived before really miss it,” he said. “At least now we have Zoom and FaceTime and all these technologies to help us maintain these affectionate bonds.”

Still, he said, “There’s something special about tactile touch — holding hands, kissing, hugging, holding someone’s arms. These support health more than anything else. And one thing we can’t do is through a computer screen. Reach for it.”

If you have any questions or comments about this story, please email editor@heart.org.

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