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Ah, the instant your hands touch for the first time: the classic definitive moment of a budding relationship. The spark, the flutter, the growing warmth, and the oncoming tingle of burgeoning affection. Whether it happens as you watch a movie, a night of laughing at a bar, or just because—the intimacy of hand-holding is as warm as it is effortless. As the relationship grows, reaching for your guy’s hand shifts from exciting butterflies to something you do on impulse or out of habit. We instinctively hold hands without even thinking—in times of joy or sorrow.

Sure, the instant sense of connection you feel when you hold hands is reason enough to do it—but did you know that holding hands has some solid research-backed benefits?

It Calms Your Nerves and Decreases Stress

There is a reason you automatically reach for your partner’s hand when you’re feeling nervous. An experiment conducted in 2006 found that women who were anticipating pain felt less anxiety when holding their husband’s hands. The experiment worked like this: Married women were asked to lie in an MRI machine and told that they would be periodically receiving mild shocks to their ankle. When they held their husband’s hands, their brains showed a reduction in stress related to the anticipated shock as compared to the women who didn’t hold their husband’s hands.

Not only that, other studies show that holding hands has also been proven to decrease the stress hormone cortisol as well as lower blood pressure and lower heart rate. One study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that the group holding the hand of their significant other and hugging them before performing a public speech actually experienced less stress (including a lower heart rate and blood pressure) than the control group that had no contact with their significant other. So the next time you feel nervous, remember that achieving a slightly more zen state might only be a hand away.

It Can Actually Minimize Pain

One study found that when couples hold hands, it can even decrease the sensation of pain. In this example, women in the study were subjected to mild, uncomfortable heat. However, when women held their partner’s hand, their heart rate and breathing synced and they felt less pain. When the other women who were in the same room as their partner but did not hold their partner’s hands did not experience the same reduction in pain. So holding hands can be a mild form of a painkiller.

It Activates the ‘Cuddle Hormone’

Reaching for a hand communicates a sense of caring and commitment without ever saying a word. It’s more than a romantic gesture; in fact, on a very biological level, it’s actually a sign that you’re in this together, which instantly provides a sense of calm and connection. You see, when we hold hands with someone we love, our bodies actually release the hormone oxytocin—which is known as the “cuddle hormone,” promoting feelings of devotion, trust, and bonding. “Having this friendly touch, just somebody simply touching our arm and holding it, buffers the physiological consequences of [having a] stressful response,” he says.

It’s Like Chocolate

We all know that chocolate is “good” for us, but who knew that hand-holding is actually the chocolate of relationships? Yes, really. On a psychological level, Hertenstein explains that the feelings you experience when oxytocin is released while holding your partner’s hand are similar to the sensations you feel when you are exposed to pleasant taste and smells, such as chocolate.

Other studies have shown that holding hands can help put you in a relaxed and calm state—the kind of stress relief that indulging in chocolate gives us. Dr. Tiffany Fields of the Touch Research Institute tells the Huffington Post that the pressure caused by interlacing fingers while holding hands increases the sense of relaxation while lowering your heart rate and blood pressure—just like the magical abilities of chocolate.

Even though you probably weren’t waiting for scientific evidence to prove that holding hands is good for you and your significant other, now you have some good excuses to reach for your loved one’s hand—for almost any reason at all. And if your or your partner’s love language is physical touch, call it a bonus!