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It's All About the Blood Pressure -- Trial Results, Guidelines, Journals, Risk Factors, and Drugs: Strong Relationship and Hugging Long-term Partner Keeps Blood Pressure Down

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Strong Relationship and Hugging Long-term Partner Keeps Blood Pressure Down

Warm emotional and physical contact such as talking and hugs between long-term partners has beneficial effects on cardiovascular health, especially in women, according to a study published in the July/August issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, the journal of the American Psychosomatic Society.[33] Researchers at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) and the University of Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania), led by Karen Grewen, PhD, report that the benefits of positive partner relationships may be related to higher release of oxytocin, a hormone that has been linked to social behaviors, including maternal and monogamous pair-bonding.

In their study, Dr. Grewen and colleagues measured plasma oxytocin, norepinephrine, cortisol, and blood pressure responses in 38 heterosexual couples aged 20-49 years who had been living together for at least 1 year. Each couple spent 10 minutes resting separately and then 10 minutes seated together talking about close time spent together and watching a "romantic" video (called the "warm contact period"), followed by a 20-second hug, after which they were separated for a 10-minute rest period alone.

Higher partner support, assessed by self-report, was related to lower SBP at the end of warm contact in both men and women, although the effect was greater in women. Both men and women who reported high partner support had higher levels of plasma oxytocin, but levels were linked to lower blood pressure at baseline and to lower levels of norepinephrine throughout the study only in women. Dr. Grewen and colleagues believe that the potentially cardioprotective effects of oxytocin on sympathetic activity and blood pressure may be greater for women.