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The same hormone that blunts the pain of childbirth is released when we cuddle another human being or an animal. Both childbirth and cuddling release the hormone oxytocin, which helps to reduce physical and emotional pain or stress. In addition to the release of oxytocin, cuddling works to bolster the functioning of the immune system, reducing the likelihood that we will get an infection. It also helps us feel connected to others, and gives us a sense of well-being that relieves stress.
The feeling of being embraced has many health benefits. We have seen research that examines the differences in emotional health among individuals who have animals to look after and keep them company, and others who lived alone. In an earlier blog we discussed the health benefits of having a pet such as a dog or a cat in your home, especially if you live alone and are over the age of 50. The health benefits have been shown to go beyond forcing you to go for a walk every day.
Oxytocin is made in the hypothalamus and is released by the pituitary gland. It is a hormone and neurotransmitter that has many roles in the body. Also known as the “love hormone,” oxytocin peaks during the first few months of a romantic relationship. It sometimes is prescribed by physicians. Other benefits include:
Our emotional wellbeing and our outlook on life are among the best indicators of maintaining good health. Studies are finding more and more evidence to support the relationship between a positive outlook and longevity. The oxytocin release when we cuddle is an important factor to help produce or maintain a positive outlook.
Even as little as five minutes of holding hands or cuddling can boost the oxytocin levels in our bodies. In addition, it helps to strengthen your relationships, improve communication, and distract us from the stress in our daily lives.
The reduction in stress, anxiety, and blood pressure that is a result of oxytocin can also help lower the risk for heart disease.
Extending or accepting the embrace of a friend or loved one provides benefits to your health not only in the moment, but also in the long run.