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Hugs for Heatlh

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“A pick-up hug!” my Grand says.  Lou, almost six years old, stands in front of her Pop, looks up, and raises her arms.  Pop lifts her high above his head.  Her arms come down to encircle his neck and she wraps her legs around his waist.  What a hug!

Ruth, almost four years old, is famous for her good-bye hugs.  As I walk toward her family’s back door, her mother calls,  “Ruth, Gran is leaving.”  My Grand comes running.  Her arms open wide.  Eyes wider and an open-mouth smile.  If I don’t get down to her level immediately, she wraps both arms around my legs and plants a kiss right on my knee.  Because I prefer neck hugs, I move fast to sit or lean over.  Her arms hold my neck like a vise and she lays her head on my shoulder.  “Um, Um!”  she says and kisses my cheek.  Then she looks me eye to eye.  “Bye, Gran!”  Her hug carries me through the day.

Our Grands don’t know that they are making Pop and me healthier, both physically and mentally.  It’s been proven.  A University of North Carolina study showed that hugs increase the levels of the hormone oxytocin and reduce blood pressure.  This hormone triggers a caring and bonding response in both men and women, and a daily dose of oxytocin from hugging can help protect us from heart disease.  Hugs also lower cortisol, the stress hormone responsible for high blood pressure.  And it’s also been proven that the production of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout our entire body, increases when we hug so we feel healthy and full of energy.

A proper hug, where the hearts are pressing together, relaxes muscles and releases tension.  Hugs balance out the nervous system.  Build trust and help foster honest and open communication.  Teach us to give and receive.  Hugging boosts self-esteem.

Much has been written and said about hugs.  When you give a hug, you get a hug.  A hug makes you feel loved and special.  A hug takes a few seconds – lasts for hours.  A hug is free and the supply is endless.  Dr. Dorothy M. Neddermeyer even liken hugs to food:  organic, naturally sweet, no pesticides, non-fattening, no carbohydrates, no preservatives, no artificial ingredients and 100 % wholesome.  How many hugs a day to we need?  Virginia Satir, a family therapist said, “We need four hugs a day for survival.  We need eight hugs a day for maintenance.  We need twelve hugs a day for growth.”

The only requirement to give a hug is a willing spirit.  Lou and Ruth’s little 21-month-old sister Elaine watches as Ruth hugs me.  “Gan, ugh!”  Elaine says.  I lift her into my arms for a pick-up hug.  Her hands grab my shoulders.  She swipes her face across my cheek and wiggles.  She’ll get it.  It just takes practice.  And I’m happy to participate in her training.

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