Friends can be vital to our health. Studies have proven people with stronger social connections are healthier people in general, both mentally and physically.
They can make us feel better, and are a shoulder to cry on when times get tough. As it turns out, friends can have even more value to us: new research is showing people who have more friends may be able to deal with physical pain even better.
In the study, researchers asked 101 healthy adults how many close friends they had (close friends were defined as people they talk to at least once a month).
They found the people with more friends, or a lot of friends, had higher activity of endorphins. Endorphins molecules released in the brain that regulate pain, and generally makes us feel good. This fits with previous studies that suggested people with broader social circles had a higher tolerance for pain.
“Endorphins are our body’s natural painkillers, and they’re actually stronger than morphine,” says Katerina Johnson, the paper’s lead author and a doctoral student at the University of Oxford in the U.K.
And that’s what they discovered this time around. Having the same study group perform a wall sit test, people with more friends could sit for longer, likely due to the stronger endorphin activity.
“We often hear in the news about how to improve our physical and mental health, but I think we should really think of health more as a triad that also includes our social health,” says Johnson. “Our findings indicate that perhaps by enhancing our social health, and our feeling of connectedness to others, we might be better primed to deal with pain.”
More research is needed to confirm their strong suspicions on whether friends can negate physical pain. Until then, it’s time to start chumming up to people in your life.
“A lot of our interactions seem to be overtaken by social media,” Johnson says. “But at the end of the day, we’ve evolved as social animals, and our real social interactions are probably really important for our health in ways that we’re only just beginning to understand.”