(NEW YORK) -- The importance of friendship has long been linked to our very survival. These days while we still cherish friends, we tend to undervalue their role in our lives. With the declining size of families and the tendency for adult children to move further away from home, we are increasingly dependent on our friends to fill traditional family roles. As people marry later, or often not at all, our friendships may be gaining more influence than the relationship with a spouse or partner.
Carlin Flora, author of Friendfluence, surveyed friend relationships on various levels of intimacy to evaluate the effect that our friends have on us. Her research found that the influence of our friends could even be affecting our health.
Psychologists have long believed that friendships have a direct effect on our overall health and are closely linked to our life expectancy. Research has shown that having few friends is the mortality risk equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Being with good friends lowers your blood pressure and has shown to increase our chances of recovering from disease.
If a friend gains weight or gets depressed, we are more likely to also gain weight or get depressed. On that same note, friends who make positive life choices tend to influence those around them to make the same choices. We see this increase as our digital circles become larger. This can illustrate how we adapt to the norms of those we are emotionally bonded to, even if we don't see them as often as we see other people. Through social media, our friends often are the ones who influence what articles we read and where we get our news.
According to Flora, if you take a moment to reflect on the different relationships in your life, you will find a unique combination of influences. Some correspond to the length of time we have known the person and the frequency in which we see them while others may depend on the impact of the time and place in which you interacted with that friend, even if they played a minimal role in your life.
The key, says Flora, is having a balance of old and new friends, those who you see frequently and have a direct impact on your life and those who have an influential presence even if it is intermittent.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio