Keeping blood pressure below 120/80 not only prevents heart disease and strokes, it reduces the risk of complications from COVID-19 by up to 60 percent, say researchers in JAMA. And keeping BP low doesn’t have to be hard work: Boosting the “hug hormone” oxytocin lowers blood pressure as effectively as dietary changes.
Cue The Notebook.
Watching a teary movie can raise your oxytocin level by 47 percent in 30 minutes, say researchers at Claremont Graduate University in California. Our brain reacts to movies as if they’re really happening, and the empathy we feel stimulates oxytocin release, explains Paul J. Zak, Ph.D., author of The Moral Molecule. Tip: Snuggling with a loved one or pet while you watch your show will increase oxytocin absorption, boosting the effect of this mood-enhancer by 22 percent.
There’s a reason spreading kindness makes us feel good — according to University of Chicago researchers, it gives us a 4-hour oxytocin boost! Take five minutes daily to send words of love to the special people in your life, and your happiness will rise by 55 percent, plus you’ll cut your risk of high blood pressure by as much as half.
Sniff these scents.
The soothing aroma of vanilla can heighten oxytocin production within two minutes, whether you sniff the fresh herb, the essential oil or a vanilla-scented candle, suggests research in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. Adds study co-author Roberta Sellaro, Ph.D., the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and baked goods works too!
Dry-brush your skin.
Use a body brush or a dry washcloth to buff your arms and legs for five minutes daily, and your oxytocin could rise by 15 percent, say Brown University researchers. Stimulating nerves in the skin calms your central nervous system, slowing its breakdown of the hormone.
Get a dose of cute!
If you’re tired and wired at night — a tip-off that your oxytocin levels are low — scroll through funny animal memes or baking fail photos after dinner. Canadian researchers say 10 minutes of silliness will boost oxytocin release for up to two hours.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.