The Healthy Friend Factor: The Positive Impact of Social Connections

healthy friend

It's easy to get lost in the sea of screens and virtual interactions and overlook the significance of genuine, face-to-face social connections. Yet, those personal connections with family, friends, or colleagues play a pivotal role in our well-being. This isn't just a vague idea: There's a growing understanding about the “healthy friend” factor in good health.1

The Science Behind Social Connections

A variety of studies suggest that our relationships can profoundly influence our mental and physical health. Whether it's chatting with coworkers over lunch or spending time with friends on the weekends, social interactions can release oxytocin, often dubbed the "love hormone," which helps reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. 

And the positive effects aren't just in the moment. A study conducted by the American Psychological Association found that individuals with robust social connections had a 50 percent lower risk of premature death.2 These findings are startling, emphasizing the importance of fostering and nurturing our relationships in our journey to a healthier life.

Beyond the Mental Boost

While you’re probably aware of the psychological perks of strong social ties, you might not be aware of all of the physiological benefits—and they are equally compelling. Regular social interactions can impact your physical health in several ways.

  • Boost immunity. Engaging in positive social interactions can bolster our immune system, making us more resilient to infections.3

  • Reduce stress response. Stress and inflammatory response are linked to a plethora of diseases, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Regular social interactions can help keep inflammation levels in check.4

  • Promote longevity. As previously mentioned, individuals with strong social ties tend to live longer. This could be due to the combined positive effects on mental and physical health.5

The Dangers of Loneliness

Conversely, isolation and loneliness can have detrimental effects on our health. Studies show that individuals who reported feelings of loneliness or isolation had a significantly higher risk of heart attack and stroke. Chronic loneliness can lead to increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can further undermine health over time.6

Loneliness is often accompanied by feelings of anxiety and depression. Over time and in the absence of social contact, these feelings can cascade into severe mental health issues, as well.7

Quality Over Quantity

You might think that cultivating more connections would be better for your health, but that’s where the “healthy” friend factor comes in. Research shows that the quality of relationships matters more than the quantity. Having a few close, meaningful relationships can be more beneficial than having numerous superficial ones.8

Consistent, positive interactions, where both parties feel understood and valued, are more conducive to health than frequent low-quality contact. It's essential to invest time and effort in fostering deep connections and mutual understanding.

Building and Nurturing Connections

If you're feeling the pinch of isolation or believe you could benefit from more robust social connections, here are a few tips.

  • Engage in group activities: Whether it's joining a book club, enrolling in a dance class, or attending community events, group activities can be an excellent way to meet new people and build connections through a shared task or focus.

  • Volunteer: Volunteering has a two-fold benefit. Not only does it allow you to connect with others, but it also offers a sense of purpose and satisfaction.

  • Stay active: Physical activities, especially those done in groups, such as yoga or pilates classes, can help reduce stress and foster new friendships.

  • Limit virtual interactions: While social media and online platforms offer convenience, they cannot replace face-to-face interactions. Aim to balance your virtual connections with real-world ones.

Good friends who inspire us to be healthy add not only years to our lives, but also life to our years.9 Through genuine, meaningful connections, we can harness an array of mental and physical health benefits and live to our fullest potential.


  1. H Hu T, Zheng X, Huang M. (2020). Frontiers in Psychology. 2020;11.

  2. Anderson, G. Oscar. (2010). Washington, DC: AARP Research.

  3. Cohen S, Wills TA. (1985). Psychological Bulletin. 1985;98:310-357.

  4. Holt-Lunstad J. (2018). Annu Rev Psychol. 2018;69:437-458.

  5. Holt-Lunstad J. (2021). Current Directions in Psychological Science. 2021;30(3):251-259

  6. Anderson, G. Oscar. (2010). Washington, DC: AARP Research.

  7. Cigna Corporation. The Loneliness Epidemic Persists: A PostPandemic Look at the State of Loneliness among U.S. Adults. 2021.

  8. Holt-Lunstad J. (2021). Current Directions in Psychological Science. 2021;30(3):251-259.

  9.  Shovestul B, Han J, Germine L, Dodell-Feder D. (2020). PLOS ONE. 2020;15.