Chances are your mom told you at least a thousand times to stop swearing, turn off the TV and clean up your room. Sorry, Mom, but researchers now say it’s okay to disobey you—once in a while.
Scientists have discovered that some of our guilty pleasures—and naughty vices—can enhance our health in surprising ways, by making us smarter, slimmer, and more resistant to diseases.
Here are six “bad” habits you don’t need to kick. So, the next time you get scolded for them, just say you’re practicing a healthier lifestyle!
Why it’s good for you: Boosts mental performance and memory.
While chewing gum make not make you look more intelligent, it can actually boost brainpower, as I recently reported. In a 2011 study published in the journal Appetite, researchers from St. Lawrence University tested a group of 159 undergraduate students. Half of them chomped gum during difficult mental tasks, such as solving logic problems, and the other half didn’t.
The gum chewers performing significantly better than the non-chewers in five out of six tests. But there was a snag: mental benefits from gum chewing lasted only 15 to 20 minutes. A study of 8th graders by researchers at Baylor College of Medicine discovered that kids who chewed gum during math tests, and while they did math homework, scored 3 percent higher on standardized math tests, and a British review concluded that chewing gum enhances memory.
Why it’s good for you: Reduces pain.
If you slam the car door on your finger, letting loose with a string of curses can help ease the agony, a recent study suggests. Researchers from Keele University in the UK asked a group of student volunteers to hold their arms in a bucket of icy water as long as possible, swearing as much as they like. Then the students submerged their arms again, this time using “harmless” language.
The result: when they cussed, the students were able to keep their arms in the cold water longer. The scientists theorized that swearing is an act of aggression, thus triggering the students’ fight-or-flight responses and empowering them to brave the icy chill longer.
Why it’s good for you: Combats allergies and asthma.
Here’s a surprising benefit of not making your bed: It kills dust mites that trigger allergies and asthma, British researchers report. They found that a bed can harbor up to 1.5 million dust mites that feed on microscopic particles of skin, then secrete allergens we inhale during sleep. Making the bed in the morning seals in moisture the tiny critters need to survive, while an unmade bed has the opposite effect.
And it’s also healthy to cut down on disinfecting our homes. The hygiene hypothesis blames excessive cleanliness for the rise in allergies and autoimmune diseases, so by letting some of the germs survive in a dirtier home, we may be revving up our immune system. Recent research also suggests that kids who play outside in the dirt have a lower rate of allergies.
Why it’s good for you: Helps you slim down.
Pacing, tapping your foot, crossing and uncrossing your legs all help torch calories. One study found that comparing calorie burn for people who spent 24 hours in a 10 by 12-foot respiratory chamber found that some volunteers burned up to 3,600 calories and others as little as 1,300 calories.
Even after adjusting for differences in muscle mass, the researchers concluded that that the only explanation for the wide range was fidgeting: The restless people spent less time sitting or lying down, and did more pacing.
Another study found that people who do chores the “hard way,” such as washing dishes by hand instead of the dishwasher, or walking to stores instead of driving, burned 108 more calories a day. Over a year, that adds up to nearly 40,000 calories, or a potential weight loss of about 11 pounds.
Why it’s good for you: Revs up the immune system.
Nervous or stressed-out people are often told to relax, but small bursts of stress perk up attention, sharpen our wits, and can activate the immune system, strengthening our defenses against disease and keeping us healthier.
Studies suggest that stress also makes vaccinations more effective and may even help improve memory. However, chronic tension is unhealthy, by raising risk for obesity, heart disease, and some forms of cancer.
Why it’s good for you: Reduces stress and combats bad behavior.
The water cooler just isn’t what it used to be, what with society becoming so anti-gossip. But a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that talking behind someone’s back could be a healthy move, lowering your stress level and stopping some people from exploiting others.
“A lot of gossip is driven by concern for others and has positive, social effects,” said Robb Willer, one of the study’s authors, in an interview with Time. Gossip can alert people to negative things happening around them, thus acting as a way to help maintain social order. However, the authors suggest that the mean-spirited, rumor-spreading variety of gossip probably serves no social purpose.
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