Catch the cuddle bug – hugging health benefits

Passport Online service

The average person would like six hugs a day, apparently – though most have to settle for two – and who could blame them?
We all love a good hug (the more squeezy and bear-like the better), and while chances are we all have at least one or two friends or relatives who are a bit hug-averse (or they’ll participate if they have to, so long as it’s at arm’s length with a few inches of air between hugger/huggee at all times), most of us would agree they’re pretty darn great.

Fans of Hey Duggee, the Bafta-winning CBeebies animation for preschool children, narrated by Alexander Armstrong, might be familiar with the ‘Duggee Hug’. At the end of each episode, Duggee the dog has a group hug with his ‘squirrels’, the scout-like group of kids who’ve worked towards a new badge. It’s received such a positive reaction that BBC Worldwide decided to take a closer look at the nation’s hug habits and attitudes towards the humble hug.

Who’s hugging who?

Their survey, of 2,001 Brits, found the average hug lasts 7.7 seconds (not bad), and while most say they’d like nearly six hugs a day (though those in the Midlands would like to demand 12), the actual average falls short – but those who only get two shouldn’t really complain, as 33% of the respondents said they receive no hugs at all.
We’re most likely to hug our partners (50%), closely followed by our children. Pets, naturally, get a look-in too, with 44% believing dogs are our most huggable four-legged friend, and cats tailing in second place with 19% of the votes.

Chemical reaction

The fact we use things like hugs to express physical affection and closeness, or to comfort or congratulate each other, for instance, isn’t down to chance. We’ve become habituated to behave in certain ways, not only because they’re deemed socially appropriate, but because they affect us in a way that’s productive for dealing with certain situations, or they’re in some way productive or useful to our survival, basically. In the Hey Duggee survey, 35% said they enjoy hugging as it shows affection and increases bonding, while many said it helps them relax, relieve stress, and gives them a sense of belonging.
‘Doctor of happiness and hugging expert’, Andy Cope, readily backs this up. “Hugging stimulates the production of oxytocin, a neurotransmitter that acts on the brain’s emotional centre. It promotes feelings of contentment and reduces anxiety and stress, as well as promoting feelings of devotion, trust and bonding,” he says. “But there’s more. A mum’s touch even seems to mitigate pain – remember when you were a child and you fell down and grazed your knee? A loving hug made it all go away.”

Hug for your health

Cope, who’s spent a decade studying positive psychology and happiness, notes that hugs can play a role in our health and wellbeing in more ways than we might imagine. “There’s research that indicates hugging releases hormones that are immunoregulatory and have a deep impact on the health of our immune systems. Hugging also releases dopamine, another wonderful chemical that can help stave off depression and, it’s believed, even Parkinson’s Disease. Dopamine changes how our bodies handle stress, both physical and social.
“It’s remarkable that such a complex surge of events in the brain and body are all initiated by a simple, supportive touch. Regardless of your touchy-feely preference level, hugging can convey a message that words often can’t, so be sure to give and get your quota of hugs.”

Famous embraces

According to the Hey Duggee survey, here are the top 10 celebs Brits would most like to hug:
1. Holly Willoughby
2. Adele
3. Michelle Obama
4. Amanda Holden
5. Ant & Dec
6. Cheryl
7. Kate Middleton
8. Taylor Swift
9. Will Smith
10. David Beckham

Written by Andrew Moore