No one wants a fair-weather friend. But having a friend nearby might make the weather seem fairer.

Researchers placed students wearing heavy backpacks at the base of a hill and asked them to estimate its steepness. Participants who stood with a friend gave lower estimates of steepness than those who were alone. The study also found that stronger and closer friendships made the climb up the hill look easier than weaker relationships.

“What we are finding is that things that we have always thought of as having metaphorical value, like friendship, actually affect our physiology. Social support changes how we perceive the world and how our bodies work,” says Dennis R. Profitt, one of the authors of the study.