How Hugging, Kissing And More Displays Of Affection Help Your Health

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Good news, lovebirds! If you're planning to celebrate with your Valentine in the coming weeks, get ready to toast to your health.

Earlier this week, a researcher at the Medical University of Vienna spread some good news in honor of National Hug Day. He pointed out that hugging someone you care about can ease stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure and even boost memory -- but hugging a stranger can have the opposite effect.

While the association between hugging and your health isn't new, it's especially relevant this time of year -- with Valentine's Day on the horizon and many couples hurrying to cuddle away the frigid temperatures sweeping across much of the nation.

Experts believe it all comes back to the hormone oxytocin. A simple embrace seems to increase levels of the "love hormone," which has been linked to social bonding.

That oxytocin boost seems to have a greater calming effect on women than men, the BBC reported. In one study, the stress-reducing effects of a brief hug in the morning carried throughout a tough work day, USA Today reported.

Perhaps the best news of all is that hugging isn't the only way getting close to your Valentine can boost your health. A few others also have big benefits:

Cuddling
Call it an extended hug -- cuddling also releases stress-easing oxytocin, which can reduce blood pressure and bond you with your mate. But you may not have guessed that a little cuddle time can help you and your partner communicate better. "Non-verbal communication can be a very powerful way to say to your partner, 'I get you,'" marriage and family therapist David Klow told Shape magazine. "Cuddling is a way of saying, 'I know how you feel.' It allows us to feel known by our partner in ways that words can't convey."

Talking
Speaking of communication -- even just spending time together without touching can put you at ease and lower blood pressure, compared to spending time with someone less significant, according to the BBC. Not to mention that making the effort to communicate openly can only strengthen your relationship.

Kissing
Of course, kissing has also been shown to affect oxytocin and cortisol levels, and, just like hugging and cuddling, can reduce stress. But one of the more surprising pros of puckering up is a cleaner kisser. The increase in saliva production that comes along with a smooch can wash bacteria off teeth and help fight plaque buildup.

Sex
In addition to relaxing you and burning some calories, some time between the sheets can help you fight off germs (Hello, flu protection!). As long as your partner isn't already sick, a couple of sexy escapades a week can boost a particular antibody that fights off colds, according to a 1999 study. Sex may also promote better sleep, thanks to both the relaxing effects of that oxytocin and an increase in a hormone called prolactin, which is normally higher during sleep, according to Women's Health.

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