Great news: Studies prove these so-called “bad” habits are actually good for you! Here, the surprising ways to better your health and happiness:
Daydreaming boosts problem-solving skills.
When you’re facing a tricky situation, like how to schedule your holiday plans so that everyone stays safe, letting your mind wander may seem like one of your bad habits and not the best use of time. But it turns out daydreaming actually does powerfully help us to come up with innovative solutions to real challenges. Canadian scientists found that allowing one’s thoughts to drift activates the area of the brain associated with complex problem-solving skills. So next time you’re trying to figure something out, sit back and relax!
Sharpen your memory by digging into dessert.
Go ahead and reach for that cookie! Within minutes, you’ll remember names, dates, and other details more easily. British scientists say middle-aged adults who enjoy some sugar get a surge in recall about 45 percent greater than those in their teens who eat the same amount of the sweet stuff. Why? Turns out, over time we become more sensitive to increases in blood sugar from sweets, which means even a small dose of glucose is energizing for our older and wiser brains.
And put your feet up! Feel like just curling up on the couch? Go for it. A new Colorado State University study reveals folks who lounge around once in a while have better reasoning skills and a fuller vocabulary than those always on the go. Researchers suspect it’s because people sitting are often engaged in mind-enhancing activities like crosswords or reading.
Tame tiredness with less exercise.
Experts frequently recommend 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days per week as a way to maintain all-day pep. But who has the time? Turns out, you can keep your stamina up even while taking a pass on more than half your workouts. So say University of Georgia scientists, who found that just 20 minutes three times per week of low-intensity activity, such as strolling around the block, cuts tiredness by 65 percent and increases vigor by 20 percent. Simply getting your body moving, even in short bursts every other day, boosts circulation and stimulates your central nervous system enough to provide endurance and gusto.
Or kill time online! To charge your get-up-and-go in minutes, watch a funny video clip on YouTube, visit a joke website or do anything else that gets you laughing. A good chuckle sends grogginess packing by spiking your body’s levels of revitalizing dopamine and endorphins, confirm South Korean scientists.
Thwart colds and flu by playing hooky.
Taking a break from your to-do list to enjoy reminiscing over old holiday photos isn’t indulging in bad habits — it is a boon for your immune system, say Stony Brook University scientists. On days when you allow yourself pleasurable time-outs, you have a higher level of secretory immunoglobulin A, an antibody in mucus that’s the body’s first line of defense against invading colds, flu and other viruses. That’s because having fun reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, making your immune system more robust.
Or treat yourself! ‘Tis the season of giving. But if a candle catches your eye while shopping, tell yourself you deserve it! A British study found that feeling good about treating yourself ups your levels of virus-fighting antibodies.
Spike your mood by staying up late.
If you stayed up late to finish a movie, you can look forward to an unexpected benefit: a happier mood the next day. University of Pennsylvania scientists found one in two people who occasionally skimp on sleep experience a 50 percent surge in mood, which is equivalent to taking an antidepressant. Less sleep every now and then “resets” your body clock, helping the brain churn out mood-lifting chemicals that keep you cheery.
Or be impulsive! Making a snap decision based on emotions makes you happier about your choice than if you’d spent hours deliberating, Dutch scientists say.
Protect the heart by chatting at meals.
Some might think it’s another one of those bad habits, but talking with your mouth full protects your ticker. Chatting slows you down as you eat, making you 88 percent less likely to develop metabolic syndrome, which ups the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, than those who eat quickly, Japanese scientists say. Dawdling prevents your body from being overloaded with too many calories all at once, keeping your heart healthy.
Or sip more coffee! German scientists say four cups of caffeinated coffee daily usher a protective protein into mitochondria, the tiny powerhouses within your cells, helping preserve and repair heart muscle cells.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.