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Five Reasons to Hug…and then Some

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If you ask most medical providers what is the number one health issue affecting older adults, you might get a list that looks like this:

Arthritis…

Hypertension…

Asthma…

Blindness…

Cancer…

Chronic Bronchitis. …

Coronary Heart Disease. …

Dementia.

I think that misses the point.  I think the health issue that affects most older adults is lack of HUGS!

Yes, everyone who gets older also is at risk for becoming more isolated, having less contact with others, having fewer intimate friends and family around and yes, fewer hugs.  And hugs are a big deal.

A psychotherapist named Virginia Satir suggests that we need four real hugs a day just to survive, eight hugs a day to maintain our health and twelve or more hugs to grow.  We are not talking about a little Hollywood hug with an air kiss; a real hug that delivers health benefits is about 20 seconds in duration.  This kind of hug is a trigger that tells your brain to release a hormone called oxytocin, and that is good for you in many ways.  And the list of “hug benefits” goes on:

  1. Hugs lower your cortisol levels which improves your heart health by lowering your blood pressure and more.
  2. Hugs reduce pain and the inflammatory response of some immune disorders and even improves the immune system for people who have cancer.
  3. Hugs stimulate the thymus gland which regulates the white blood cells that defend your body against infection.
  4. Hugs tell your brain to release dopamine which is another hormone that also positively reinforces good feelings and even motivation.
  5. Hugs elevate the serotonin levels which help to counter pain while elevating happiness and decreasing sadness.

We are not talking about a one and done thing here.  I am not suggesting we drop by to visit and older loved one for a hug.  Think about hugs as part of a nonverbal communication that can become a habit.  And with the holidays upon us where families will be getting together, think about how to give your reunions a health benefit.  Remember…for every hug you give, you also get one back!

Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.  She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.

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