The Healthiest Bad Habits

Who knew that those pesky habits your teachers always scolded you for could actually be good for your health? Turns out that breaking the rules—or even indulging in ‘bad’ habits—can be beneficial. The next time you want to treat yourself to a guilty pleasure, or find yourself partaking in behavior that would make Ms. Manners shudder, remember that you could be doing yourself a favor. Here are seven bad habits that are surprisingly healthy, along with the hidden benefits they offer.

1. Swearing

The surprising health benefit: increased pain tolerance

It’s not uncommon to respond to physical pain with a barrage of curse words. Turns out that unleashing a string of four-letter words can be cathartic in more ways than one. In fact, a study published in Neuroreport shows that swearing actually increases pain tolerance, and reduces the perception of pain. Participants repeating swear words were better able to withstand immersing their hands in ice cold water than those repeating a neutral word, possibly because cursing induces a fight or flight response, which helps the body tolerate pain (or cold) a bit better. So the next time you inadvertently hurt yourself or find yourself diving into a cold swimming pool this summer, you now have a scientific excuse to indulge in some R-rated language guilt-free.

2. Drinking beer

The surprising health benefit: improved heart health

Drinking beer in moderation actually lowers your risk of heart disease by around 31 percent, according to an analysis of 16 studies involving over 200,000 participants published in the European Journal of Epidemiology.

Obviously, all-night benders are not recommended. While moderate consumption triggers various health benefits, over-indulging is anything but healthy. In addition to wreaking havoc on the liver, heavy drinking has negative effects on the heart. It increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as other health problems, such as some types of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Men should limit themselves to a maximum of two drinks per day, and women should stop after one.

3. Negative thinking

The surprising health benefit: improved psychological well-being

Our culture may value positive thinking, but expressing mixed emotions can actually yield better results than suppressing negative thoughts. Research in PLOS One looking closely at patients undergoing psychotherapy showed that people who expressed both happiness and sadness in personal narratives rated for emotional content had improved well-being compared to those who swung to one extreme or the other.

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4. Chewing gum

The surprising health benefit: improved brainpower

People who chewed gum for five minutes before a test actually had a performance advantage over those who didn’t, according to a series of experiments published in the journal Appetite. Although these benefits only lasted for the first 15 to 20 minutes of the test, the gum chewers’ performance on a variety of difficult tests, as compared to non-chewers, were significant. However, chewing gum during the tests didn’t have the same benefits, possibly because it can be distracting to take a test and chew gum at the same time.

5. Gossiping

The surprising health benefit: increases contributions in groups

Those rumors you’ve been told not to spread are actually the antidote to bad behavior in groups—and indulging in some gossip over the watercooler can help keep your coworkers and teammates on their best behavior. That’s because knowing that you’ll be held accountable for your actions can actually improve them, so sharing the latest news in hushed tones can actually enhance group behavior, according to a study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science. If someone’s actions aren’t easily identifiable by the group, they may be inclined to contribute far less.

6. Eating dessert for breakfast

The surprising health benefit: weight loss

Yes, it’s the most important meal of the day, but adding chocolate, cookies, or even cake to your breakfast may actually improve weight loss, so long as you’re getting protein and carbs in your morning meal as well. In a 32-week study at Tel Aviv University, participants who added dessert to their breakfast lost 40 pounds more on average than those who steered clear. The researchers theorized that adding sweets to breakfast may help people avoid cravings later in the day.

Obviously, moderation is key. Replacing a healthy breakfast with chocolate sundaes or otherwise overindulging can increase the risk of diabetes, obesity, and other diseases. But it looks like a touch of sugar in the morning is better than playing by the rules and avoiding it altogether.

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7. Cleaning a baby’s pacifier by popping it in your mouth

The surprising health benefit: reduced risk of allergies

When a baby drops a pacifier on the floor, some parents respond by popping it in their mouths to clean it, and giving it back to the baby. The American Dental Association frowns upon this habit because it may lead parents to transfer bacteria that cause tooth decay to their baby’s mouth—but not everyone thinks this “cleaning” method is so bad.

Researchers in Sweden recently found that parents who cleaned a pacifier by sucking on it cut allergy risk in babies, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics. The theory is that microbes transferred from the parent’s saliva to the infant stimulate the baby’s immune system, helping to protect against allergy-related conditions like asthma and eczema.

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