Mum was right. You will feel a whole lot better after a cuddle

Scientists have confirmed the wisdom of mothers down the ages - a real hug does you good

Some turn to yoga or t'ai chi, others swear by red wine. No stone has been left unturned in the age-old pursuit of a long and healthy life. But now medical researchers have concluded that the secret of longevity may lie in nothing more outlandish than what comes naturally to mothers the world over.

A good old-fashioned cuddle, say the scientists, can reduce heart disease, cut down stress and promote longevity. The researchers even advise nervous public speakers to indulge in a bit of hugging before they go on stage to face their audience.

At the heart of it is a so-called "cuddle hormone", oxytocin, a chemical associated with a range of health benefits, which shows a marked increase in the blood supply after just 10 minutes of warm, supportive touching. The finding might explain why married couples enjoy better health than singletons.

Some studies have suggested that divorce, bereavement and social isolation damage health. But what it is about marriage that is protective, and the mechanisms involved, have been unclear.

However, the scientists also found that the quality of the hug is crucial - and, for example, the celebrity embrace performed in the glare of flashlights might not count. Instead the cuddle is at its strongest in a warm, supportive relationship.

Volunteer partners taking part in the experiment were first put into separate rooms. Their blood pressure and levels of oxytocin and cortisol, the stress hormone, were tested.

Then they were seated on a loveseat in a quiet room and told to sit close together, holding hands. They watched a five-minute segment of a romantic video, followed by two minutes talking about a time when they felt close as a couple. At the end of the session, partners stood for a half-minute hug.

"Our findings suggest that when the relationship is supportive and strong, time spent with the partner may be beneficial by reducing blood pressure and protecting against future heart disease," said the researchers, whose findings appear in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine this week. "These are the first findings in humans linking oxytocin to the strength of the partner relationship, and it was seen in both men and women.''

The latest research suggests that oxytocin is the chemical that gives marriage its beneficial effect. Its role is to calm and destress, and it is thought that touch triggers the body into producing the hormone. Touch stimulates production of oxytocin which, in turn, promotes a desire to touch and be touched.

In another study, the same researchers from the University of North Carolina told couples they would have to give speeches. Before they did so, 100 of the couples sat holding hands for a short time, then they embraced for 20 seconds. Another group of couples rested quietly and were separated from their partners. During their speeches, heart rates and blood pressure rose twice as high in the second group compared to the hand-holders.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Content Leader

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This role requires a high level...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent