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Your ‘Bad’ Winter Habits Have Surprising Health Benefits, Say Scientists

A great excuse to sleep in and stay in your PJs.


Does all the news about forming good, healthy habits leave you feeling inadequate? We all have “bad habits” that make us feel ashamed or guilty, from eating sugary foods to sleeping in. But are those habits really all that bad? Research shows that some of the things we think of as bad or unproductive are actually good for us. Below, check out seven seemingly bad habits that turned out to have some benefits, including staying in your PJs, playing phone games, reading novels, sleeping in, and more.

Cozy winter sweet potatoes may help balance blood sugar.

Love potatoes? Simply swapping sweet potatoes for white potatoes may help you balance your blood sugar. The richly colored spuds boast an ample supply of beta-carotene (an antioxidant that gives them their orange hue), which reduces insulin resistance and keeps insulin-secreting beta cells in the pancreas healthy. Proof? A recent study in Advances in Nutrition found that regularly eating foods rich in beta-carotene reduces type 2 diabetes risk. Other good sources of beta-carotene include winter squash, carrots, and spinach.

Another form of sugar that may help? Honey. Adding 2 tablespoons of acacia, clover, or raw honey to tea in place of sugar may help lower your type 2 diabetes risk, as long as the rest of your diet is healthy. Though honeys have natural sugars, these varieties are also rich in compounds that may lower blood glucose.

Wearing pajamas may improve your attention to detail.

Winter is the perfect excuse to lounge around in your coziest pajamas or sweatpants. And when you do, there is a surprising benefit: It may be easier to concentrate on small details during tasks. That’s the word from a study conducted by Columbia University scientists, who found that wearing informal, comfortable clothing improves the brain’s local processing, which helps you focus more easily on the small details of a task. Though the study authors noted that more research is necessary to support their findings, it’s a great excuse to stay warm in your jammies.

Playing phone games may help stimulate your memory.

When it’s too blustery to head outdoors, video games are a fun way to pass the time. Bonus: University of California, Irvine, scientists found that study participants who played games that immersed them in an imaginary world (such as Angry Birds and Super Mario 3D World) for 30 minutes daily improved their memory in four weeks. How did it work? The researchers theorized that the games stimulated the brain’s memory-managing hippocampus.

Bonus tip: Play games with your friends. Regularly playing games with pals lifts your spirits, even on days when you’re not spending time together, says Being playful with others ups resilience and cuts stress, spurring lasting joy.

Reading exciting mystery novels may improve immunity.

Curling up with a whodunit in front of a roaring fire is the perfect way to while away a winter day. Plus, that scary excitement it creates may help improve your immunity. A recent study published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity found that a short bout of stress increases the immune system’s output of monocytes, white blood cells that fend off viral and bacterial invaders. While the stress created in this recent study is not the same type of stress you might experience while reading a novel, it’s still a good excuse to dive into a good book.

Soaking your feet may reduce your cortisol levels.

In a study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, researchers found that volunteers who enjoyed warm foot baths experienced lower cortisol (the stress hormone) levels and entered into a relaxed state, as compared to the control group. So, the next time someone asks why you are spending so long in the bath, let them know that it’s to reduce your stress levels and improve your health!

Sleeping in may lower your blood pressure.

There’s nothing like cuddling under a warm blanket on a chilly day. What’s more, sleeping at least 30 minutes longer than usual may lower elevated systolic blood pressure (the top number) and elevated diastolic blood pressure, according to research published in The Journal of Sleep Research. Experts suspect that too-little sleep causes a spike in artery-narrowing stress hormones, such as norepinephrine, while more Zzzs reduces their output for better blood flow.

Knitting may lower your heart rate.

Knitting is more than just a peaceful activity, and it’s not a waste of time. A test conducted by a group called “Brits and the Fitbit” found that knitting slows heart rate. Why? The rhythmic motion relaxes you, which helps take pressure off arteries. Other top relaxing activities, according to the test, included fishing, blogging, calligraphy, and painting.

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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