When it comes to matters of health, it seems that everything you do—or at least want to do—is bad for you. But recent research is calling into question exactly how bad our biggest vices truly are.
It turns out these so-called health offenders can actually strengthen your muscles, up your gym performance, boost your immune system, fight flab, and even prevent chronic diseases. Not bad for "unhealthy" habits, eh?
Here, 10 vices you can finally embrace guilt-free.
Go ahead—hit the snooze. Or just break the damn thing altogether. According to a recent study from the University of Munich, people who wake up to an alarm rather than according to their body's internal clock are three times more likely to be overweight. Waking up before your body is ready messes up your circadian rhythms, leading you to feel perpetually jet lagged and eat when your body isn't primed to absorb nutrients, slowing your metabolism considerably.
"Medical" marijuana is bit of a misnomer. Every dooby comes with health benefits. A 2013 study published in The American Journal of Medicine found that regular pot smokers have 16 percent lower fasting insulin levels and smaller waist circumferences compared to marijuana virgins, dramatically lowering their risk of diabetes. Researchers don't yet know why marijuana has the effect, but who cares? We're heading to Colorado.
Snacking on Candy
Grab some gummies on your way through the checkout line. People who eat candy have lower BMIs, smaller waists, and less health-wrecking inflammation than those who skip sugary treats, per findings published in Nutrition Research. Sound counterintuitive? While candy is a veritable sugar bomb, it's low in saturated fat and calories when compared to other desserts, making it a pretty good way to curb your sweet tooth and avoid devouring a whole cheesecake when your willpower finally relents.
Biting Your Nails
Gnawing on your nails isn't exactly a turn-on, but it does have legitimate health benefits. Ingesting the germs that live on fingernails can potentially strengthen the immune system, according to Hilary Longhurst, Ph.D., a consultant clinical immunologist at Barts Health and the London NHS Trust. Nail biting exposes your body to relatively small amounts of bacteria so that when your immune system meets them again, its already equipped with the weapons that will annihilate them.
Next to diet and exercise (we know, we know) the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has ID'ed moderate alcohol consumption as one of the key behaviors that can lead to a longer life. A healthy happy hour habit lowers your risk of heart disease and wards off Alzheimer's and other chronic illnesses, according to the CDC's research. Keep it to two drinks a day, though. Any more than that and you can actually reverse alcohol's good-for-you effects.
Going on Vacation
Put those PTO days to good use. In one study of 13,000 men, researchers from the State University of New York found that taking even one vacation a year reduces your risk of dying—from pretty much anything. And when it comes to men's No 1. killer (that would be you, heart disease), one week away annually for just five years can reduce your risk by 30 percent.
That bottle of chocolate syrup in your fridge is good for more than making sundaes. Cacao's flavonoids lower blood pressure, slash stress hormones, and even fire up alertness and performance by increasing blood flow to the brain and heart. One Italian study found that participants who ate dark chocolate every day for 15 days cut their risk of insulin resistance by nearly half, thanks to chocolate's high-powered flavonols. Snack smart: Bars with at least 70 percent cacao blend the greatest amount of antioxidants with the least amount of sugar.
Having Lots of Sex
As if you really needed a reason to get it on, sex can improve your immunity, help you sleep better, and—get this—look younger. As described in his book, Superyoung: The Proven Way to Stay Young Forever, neuropsychologist David Weeks kept tabs for 10 years on thousands of men and women who looked significantly younger than their years. What did they have in common? Active sex lives. (That's at least two to three romps per week.) Apart from the aforementioned health boosters, sex keeps you looking young by triggering the release of human growth hormone, which promotes skin elasticity and prevents wrinkles, Weeks says.
Perk up! People who drink four cups of coffee each day are about 10 percent less likely to get depressed, according to a 2013 study from the National Institute of Health. One possible explanation: Coffee beans are ridiculously rich in antioxidants, among them chlorogenic acid (CGA). When consumed in moderate doses, the polyphenol has a major anti-inflammatory effect and is linked with reduced blood pressure, improved insulin response, reduced risk of Alzheimer's, and even weight loss.
Getting a Massage
It does more than feel good. It does good, too. Regular Swedish massages (the ones that go deep) reduce the adrenal gland's secretion of stress hormones, according to one recent study from researchers at Emory University School of Medicine. As those hormones are known to suppress the immune system, spur inflammation, and degrade muscle cells, getting rubdowns on the regular may combat a whole host of chronic diseases. A previous study from the same researchers found that even a single massage session is enough to bolster the immune system.