When you shake hands at an important meeting or hug during a stressful time, the feel-good energy can help us relax and bond, releasing worry and negativity. Friendly, affectionate touch causes our bodies to release oxytocin. Sometimes called the “love hormone,” oxytocin decreases the stress-related hormone cortisol, lowers blood pressure, and increases pain tolerance. This article will cover why you should hug the people you love this Valentine’s Day: research shows physical touch is good for your health!

Bodywork benefits

Friendly touch, whether it’s between cuddling couples, breastfeeding moms and their babies, or even pets and their people, can help us stay healthy. Studies suggest that massage, for example, can slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure—and that’s on top of just plain feeling good. Massage also helps the body release oxytocin, which in addition to the benefits mentioned above, promotes a general sense of well-being and reduces anxiety. Further, getting a massage after strenuous activity can help prevent stiffness and soreness later.

Physical affection and relationships

Being physically affectionate improves how others perceive you by helping you appear more trustworthy. But you don’t want to start grabbing people and hugging them at random, because most people aren’t comfortable with physical affection from strangers. Studies have shown that there’s a relationship between the amount of physical affection romantic partners give each other and their satisfaction with the relationship. And today’s physical affection—whether romantic or platonic—can predict a better mood tomorrow.

Connecting and bonding

Humans are social beings. Although we all have different levels of comfort with touch, we do have a need to feel a sense of connection to the other members of our tribe. Some of that connection comes from conversations, and some comes from communication through touch. Affectionate touch is how romantic partners bond, as well as how parents bond with their children. After all, sometimes everyone can use a warm, reassuring hug from someone dear. And for animal lovers—touching your pets counts, too! 

Add touch to your life

Some people go days or even weeks without any physical contact and miss out on the health-maximizing effects of lowered stress, improved pain management, and a healthier mind and body. Remember that giving healthy touch—like a handshake, a high five, a pat on the back or shoulder, or a hug—benefits you and the recipient. 

Below are some other ways to boost oxytocin through affectionate touch:

  • Pat your pet. Touch doesn’t have to only involve humans. If you don’t have a pet of your own, consider volunteering to walk a neighbor’s dog.
  • Schedule a massage. Find a trusted therapist and book some time to relax. Pro tip: consider further pampering yourself by turning it into a day of rest with a nap afterward.
  • Hug people hello and goodbye. Maximize touch in your day by greeting friends and family with an embrace.
  • Spend time in bed. Whether it’s snuggling or sexual activity, you and your partner will both benefit from some time between the sheets.
  • Get a pedicure. New nail color or not, you’ll feel pampered and relaxed.