Friends hugging

Hug It Out To Slow Down Aging

Have you heard of professional cuddlers? For about $60/hr, you can hire someone for a platonic cuddle up without the complications of a relationship. In fact, some of the services even offer cuddling parties. Sound a little creepy to you? Well, what if you found out that hugging can help to slow down the aging process? According to the University of California, Berkeley, people who don’t hug age faster. Ready to cash in your $60? Let’s look at the effects of oxytocin on the aging process.

The Love Hormone
Oxytocin is also known as the “love hormone” or “trust hormone, and it gets released when people let down their guard and participate in a good hug. As we age and get fewer hugs, the levels of the hormone drop and muscle loss are one of the major side effects. In fact, science shows that we lose five percent of muscle mass per decade once we reach our thirties. In the study at UC Berkeley, oxytocin was injected into older mice who were showing signs of aging and muscle loss. Within nine days of the injection, their muscle mass improved to within 80% of that of the younger mice. Wendy Cousins, coauthor of the Nature Communications study says, “This is good because it demonstrates that extra oxytocin boosts aged tissue stem cells without making muscle stem cells divide uncontrollably.”

Friends laughing

Oxytocin Increases Happiness
Paul Zak, PhD, hypothesized that there was a direct correlation between well-being and happiness and oxytocin, at least for women. To test his theory, he drew blood from 60 female college students after receiving a gift from a stranger of $24. The women were given the option of returning a portion of the money or keeping it. The women were also required to fill out a survey on their satisfaction with life. Results showed that women who showed a larger increase in oxytocin after receiving the money reported being more satisfied with life and were also more likely to share their money with the stranger. They also tended to be more trusting. According to Zak, “Those with higher oxytocin had more sex with fewer partners,” indicating a likelihood to form more long lasting relationships and be liked by others.

Oxytocin Increases Generosity
Another of Zak’s studies found that men treated with oxytocin were more likely to donate money after watching public service ads. Forty-one men were divided into two groups, one of which was given the hormone, and the other of which was given a placebo. They were then shown public service ads on topics such as smoking, drunk driving, and global warming. Zak says, “Those on placebo donated to 21% of the ads, those on oxytocin, 33%.” The men given the hormone donated 56% more money than those given the placebo.

Oxytocin and Social Anxiety
Researcher Jason Yee, PhD, says that oxytocin can help relieve anxiety in social situations. Prairie voles are known to form strong monogamous bonds. Yee exposed the animals to a brief period of stress, and then gave them oxycontin to reduce anxiety and compared the recovery from stress in the animals who recovered alone to those who recovered cuddling with another prairie vole. Yee found that those who were assigned a partner showed less anxiety, and were less likely to try to escape from their cage.

What do you think of professional huggers? Yay or nay? Let us know what you think about paying for hugs.

woman exercising

The Connection Between Happiness and Health

Can happiness ever be unhealthy? When R and B artist Pherell Williams felt his song “Happy” needed a visual, he and his team created “24 Hours of Happy,” the world’s first all day music video. The groundbreaking project featured a cast of hundreds of Angelenos dancing to the song round the clock, with Pherell appearing at the top of each hour to lend his support. The New York Times referred to this as “punishment level glee.” Leave it to the Times to add a touch of cynicism to a celebration of bliss. While staying awake for 24 hours may take its toll, it is generally believed that happiness may be a major component in maintaining physical health. Not convinced? Read on!

Why You Should Be Happy
So what’s so great about being happy? A 2012 review of over 200 studies found a correlation between optimism and a lowered risk of heart disease. This is not to say that happiness directly prevents heart attacks, rather that happy people are more likely to maintain good habits, like exercising, eating well, and getting a good night’s sleep. However, some research seems to suggest that there are direct health benefits to a positive mental state. Studies published in the Psychological Bulletin show that optimism may help decrease levels of inflammation and a study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that unhappy people 60 and older were more likely to develop disabilities, suggesting that merely being cheerful can lead to an improved physical state.

Genes and Environment
So, when it comes to happiness, is it nature or nurture? Research shows that identical twins have similar levels of happiness and that one twin’s happiness can be used to predicts the current and future happiness of the other with more accuracy than income and achievement. This would offer substantial evidence that genetics play a big role in happiness. However, if you were not lucky enough to hit the genetic jackpot, there are alternatives. Your environment can also have a lot of impact on your mental state.

Ways to Get Happy
Susan Albers, a psychologist at Cleveland Clinic suggest practicing a technique she calls mindfulness, or being present in the moment. Activities like keeping a diary of gratitude or helping others are known to increase happiness and there are also smartphone apps available to help you monitor your moods.

Are you insanely happy or insanely healthy or just insane? If so, or if not, tell us how you manage to be all or none. We love to hear it.