You get a warm, fuzzy feeling when you hug a friend or family member. But hugs possibly have another benefit: They might be boosting your immune system.
According to a new study, scientists at Carnegie Mellon University found a correlation between how much hugging people did and how well their bodies were able to fight off colds.
The researchers interviewed 404 healthy adults to find out how much social support and how much conflict they had in their daily lives, including how often they hugged other people. Then they exposed the participants to a common cold virus.
They found that people with stronger social networks and those who hugged others more frequently had less risk of infection. And of those who did get sick, more frequent hugs resulted in less severe symptoms.
What's going on here? "It could be related to a lot of different factors," says Rick Henriksen, MD, a family physician at the University of Utah School of Medicine. In all likelihood, he says, hugging is a proxy for something in your life or your environment that helps to keep you from getting sick.
For instance, stress weakens your body's immune system. Hugging and other expressions of strong social bonds with others could indicate lower stress.
Even if you're not a hugger, this doesn't mean you're destined to spend the winter clutching a box of tissues and a bottle of cough syrup. Henriksen says good sanitation practices are the key to avoiding colds.
"If you are around people who are sick, make sure you're washing your hands," he says. Try to avoid contact like sharing utensils or cups, and try to steer clear of sick co-workers.
And don't skimp on sleep. "Make sure you're well-rested so you can fight something when you do get it," Henriksen says.