13 "Bad" Habits That Are Actually Good for You
Humans are creatures of habit. Although it can take us a while to form these mental pathways, once they're carved out, it's extremely hard to deviate from them. As a species we spend millions of dollars each year trying to break bad habits or deal with their side effects. The funny thing is, many of the practices we've vilified don't live up to their evil reputations. In fact, as science advances, experts have discovered some unexpected benefits of many things we've spent a lifetime criticizing. Are you guilty of making any of these "mistakes"? You may have been doing yourself a favor all along! (See also: Habits Aren't Boring — They're the Secret to Happiness)
1. Drinking Alcohol
Who doesn't enjoy a cocktail after a long day of work? Or sipping a delicious glass of wine with dinner? Drinking alcohol is often viewed as a vice, but research has revealed multiple health benefits of regular libations. Good red wine has antioxidant compounds called flavonols which evolve into molecules that improve blood pressure and blood flow. (Note: The cheap stuff isn't fermented long enough to release the flavonols, so it doesn't count.) Don't like wine? No problem. Recently research indicates that beer could be an even better heart-disease fighter. Beer is made with malted barley, which contains antioxidants. Beer also contains high levels of vitamin B6 and silica, a compound that helps strengthen bones. (See also: 10 Great Reasons to Drink Beer)
2. Not Making the Bed
Most of us were taught that a productive day starts with a well-made bed. Recent research shows that failing to make your bed in the morning may actually be healthier. Although it looks messy, the warm, dry conditions of an unmade bed are unappealing to dust mites that trigger asthma and other allergies.
3. Losing Your Temper
Every once in a while, life hands us a big steaming pile of, well, you know what. Polite society says to keep it all in, never allowing our anger to overflow into public situations, but not all anger is unproductive. Scientists say anger — as opposed to fear or anxiety — can prompt your brain to release less cortisol, a stress hormone linked to obesity, bone loss, and heart disease. The key is figuring out how to appropriately channel your anger rather than lash out.
4. Cracking Your Knuckles
Many of us grew up with the belief that cracking knuckles would lead to arthritic joints in adulthood, but that's actually just an old wives tale. Some even say that cracking your knuckles can be beneficial, increasing finger flexibility for at least a few minutes afterward.
5. Biting Your Nails
Nail-biting (onychophagia) is a common stress-relieving habit — one that most of us consider undesirable. There are countless tools and advice columns about how to stop nail biting, but it might not be as bad as we think. Some scientists say consuming some of the bugs and bacteria that live under our nails can boost the immune system.
Tapping your foot during a meeting. Drumming your fingers during a movie. At one point or another, every one of us has been scolded for "not sitting still." However recent studies show that fidgeting might actually be a way to stay fit. Small, seemingly incidental movements can actually help us burn calories throughout the day, and potentially, reduce the risk of health problems.
No one wants to admit it, but we all do it: Talk about friends and acquaintances behind their backs, often in a judgemental way. Normally, gossiping makes us feel guilty, but some research suggests "gossip and ostracism can have very positive effects. They are tools by which groups reform bullies, thwart exploitation of 'nice people,' and encourage cooperation."
8. Not Wearing Sunscreen
Too much time in tanning beds or repeated sunburns is detrimental to your health, but scientists admit that a little sun exposure is actually good for us. In a time when vitamin D deficiency and rickets are all too common in developed countries, experts say that 10 minutes of unprotected exposure to midday sun can help boost the immune system.
9. Drinking Coffee
Coffee has been blamed for many things, from staining your teeth to increased cancer risk. But the science shows that, for most people, drinking up to three cups of coffee per day will deliver more health benefits than risks. This popular hot beverage speeds up your metabolism, boosts exercise endurance, and reduces your risk of gallstones and kidney stones. Coffee also protects against Parkinson's disease, type 2 diabetes, and liver disease; and it reduces depression in women. Keep in mind that we're talking about the black stuff, not double flavored lattes with extra whipped cream. (See also: 10 Surprising Benefits of: Caffeine)
Normally, letting one fly in public is cause for severe shame and humiliation, but new research suggests you ought to fart with pride. Regular flatulence indicates that the beneficial bacteria living in your gut are well-fed, which means your entire body is in a better position to absorb nutrients and fight disease.
11. Skipping a Shower
We're terrified of not looking our best. So, we scrub and shave and sterilize every inch of our bodies on a regular basis. However, washing too often actually strips your skin of the natural oils that keep it hydrated and supple (so you have to pile on moisturizers), not to mention wasting lots of water. (See also: How to Shower Less and Still Feel Clean)
12. Not Taking Your Vitamins
Everyone wants to be healthy, and we know that vitamins are essential for health. Multivitamins and herbal supplements are a multibillion dollar industry, but experts say they're not as beneficial as we think. If you're constantly forgetting to take yours, it's probably a good thing. "[A] growing body of evidence suggests that multivitamins offer little or nothing in the way of health benefits, and some studies suggest that high doses of certain vitamins might cause harm." (See also: Multivitamins Aren't as Good as You Think: Eat These Real Foods Instead)
13. Not Washing Hands With Hot Water
Let's face it, most of us don't wait for the water to get piping hot before we squirt the soap, lather, and rinse. We've been trained that soap and hot water are the key ingredients for clean hands and germ elimination, but new science suggests we may have been burning our hands for nothing. According to the CDC and other health authorities, effective hand washing depends less on the temperature of the water and more on your soaping technique, as well as how long you lather.
Any bad habits that are actually good I've missed? Please share in comments!