Need a Health Boost? Science Says Hugs Might Be the Answer

New study finds: a simple hug can boost your health. Researchers uncover the substantial benefits of touch on mental and physical well-being, advocating for touch as a straightforward strategy for health enhancement.

Recent findings by the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, published in “Nature Human Behaviour”, have shed light on the benefits of touch. Analysing over 137 studies with nearly 13,000 participants, the research confirms that simple acts of touch significantly lower stress, pain, anxiety, and depression levels. 

Human vs. Non-Human Touch

When researchers investigated if the type of touch matters for our health, they found intriguing results. While touching objects like weighted blankets or receiving touch from robots can improve our physical condition—such as aiding in recovery or enhancing feelings of physical well-being—these benefits don’t fully extend to our mental health. In simple terms, these non-human touches help, but not as much as human contact does for feeling less anxious or depressed.

On the other hand, human touch—be it a hug, a pat on the back, or a handhold—has a stronger and more positive impact on our mental health. The study quantified this difference, showing that human touch is more powerful in easing our minds and uplifting our spirits. This suggests that the warmth and emotional support we feel from another person’s touch go beyond what can be physically measured, offering a unique comfort that non-human touch can’t replicate.

Benefits of Touch Across Life Stages

The benefits of touch, as found in the study, span across all ages, offering unique advantages at each stage of life. For newborns, the impact is particularly profound. Research showed that babies gain more weight and thrive better when the touch comes directly from their parents rather than healthcare providers. In simpler terms, a parent’s touch has a stronger positive effect on a baby’s health and development, with babies under parental care showing nearly double the rate of health improvement compared to those cared for by others.

This significant finding highlights the deep biological and emotional connections that a parent’s touch can foster, helping newborns in their most vulnerable stage. Yet, as the study points out, our understanding of touch’s benefits during childhood and adolescence is still lacking, highlighting an essential area for future exploration. While we’ve seen clear touch advantages early in life and in adulthood, its influence during critical developmental years remains an open question.

The Ripple Effect of the Benefits of Touch in Healthcare

The recent study presents a compelling case for integrating touch into mainstream healthcare practices. It suggests that simple touch interventions, such as massages or even hand-holding, could significantly enhance treatment outcomes. For instance, touch has been shown to lower cortisol levels by 78%, indicating a strong stress-reducing effect, and improve weight gain in newborns. These findings point to the potential of touch to serve not just as an adjunct to traditional medical treatments but as a pivotal component of patient care. Such approaches could humanise and personalise healthcare, offering benefits across various patient demographics without adding substantial costs or requiring invasive procedures.

Touch in the Digital Age

The findings from the study arrive at a crucial juncture in our digital evolution, emphasising the irreplaceable value of human touch amidst the surge of virtual interactions. As we increasingly lean on digital means for communication, the essence of physical touch is demonstrated to significantly reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. 

This pivot back to the basics challenges us to reassess how we maintain connections in an age where digital interactions often replace genuine human contact. It highlights the importance of counteracting the isolation and loneliness amplified by the digital divide, advocating for a balanced approach to interaction that includes physical elements of connection to bolster mental and emotional well-being.

Future Directions for Touch Research

The study highlights a simple truth: touch, in its most basic form, can be a powerful tool for improving our well-being. From the calming effect of a parent’s touch on a newborn to the comfort found in the embrace of a loved one during tough times, the physical connection goes beyond mere physical contact. It serves as emotional support, psychological comfort, and physical healing.

As we navigate through the challenges of modern life, the findings remind us of the profound impact of reaching out, literally and figuratively, to offer support, comfort, and healing. It’s a call to action to embrace the human touch as a vital component of health and humanity, encouraging us to hold on to the tactile bonds that connect us all.


  1. New study highlights the benefit of touch on mental and physical health. (2024, April 24). ScienceDaily.
  2. Packheiser, J., Hartmann, H., Fredriksen, K., Gazzola, V., Keysers, C., & Michon, F. (2024, April 8). A systematic review and multivariate meta-analysis of the physical and mental health benefits of touch interventions. Nature Human Behaviour.

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