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9 benefits of bad habits

Jane Murphy / 03 January 2018

Constantly berating yourself – or others – for being messy, fidgeting or not paying attention? Those annoying habits may not be as unhealthy as you think.

Having a good gossip with friends increases levels of oxytocin, say scientists

1. Daydreaming

Having a tendency to let your mind wander isn't necessarily a bad thing. It could well be a sign that you're highly intelligent and better than most at problem-solving, according to a new study from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Researchers used an MRI machine to measure the brain patterns of more than 100 people. Those who had the most efficient brains also reported frequent daydreaming and scored highest on intellectual and creative ability.

The theory? Higher brain efficiency frees up more capacity to think, so the mind can afford to wander when performing easy tasks.

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2. Fidgeting

Can't keep still? No problem! People who confess to being moderately or very fidgety are significantly less likely to suffer the negative health impacts of sitting for long periods, says research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Another study at the University of Missouri found that tapping your toes while seated can protect the arteries in the legs, and potentially prevent arterial disease.

How two minutes an hour of proper exercise can lead to better health

3. Swearing

Voicing a few choice expletives can help you let off steam and manage stress, of course – but did you know it can also offer natural pain relief?

Researchers at the University of Keele asked volunteers to hold their hands in iced water for as long as they could bear while repeating a swear word. They then underwent the same test without swearing. When swearing, people withstood the pain for longer, rated it as less painful and showed a greater increase in heart rate, suggesting the body's natural stress response had kicked in.

4. Leaving your bed unmade

The average bed could be home to 1.5 million allergen-producing dust mites, say Kingston University researchers. But these pesky mites only survive by taking in atmospheric moisture. Leave your bed unmade – and open the window – during the day and there'll be less moisture on the sheets and mattress, so the mites will dehydrate and die.

Is your home making you ill?

5. Sunshine

Sunlight is the best source of bone-building vitamin D – but also the main cause of skin cancer. So while it's important to protect your skin with sunscreen, it pays to strike a healthy balance to ensure you look after your bones, too.

In summer, fair-skinned people only need a few minutes of sun exposure in the middle of the day to make enough vitamin D, while those with darker skin may need a little longer, says Cancer Research UK.

Vitamin D vs skin cancer: getting the balance right

6. Gossiping

Having a good gossip with friends increases levels of the so-called 'cuddle hormone' oxytocin, according to a University of Padua study. Oxytocin is an instant mood-booster as it makes us feel closer to other people, as well as more trusting and generous.

Learn more about the health benefits of friendship

7. Eating chocolate

Now, this isn't a green light to over-indulge – but eating good quality dark chocolate in moderation has been associated with many health benefits.

A couple of examples? Eating up to 100g chocolate each day is linked to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, according to University of Aberdeen scientists in a study published in the BMJ journal Heart. And it can lift your mood: chocolate is a good source of tryptophan, an amino acid used in the production of the feel-good brain chemical serotonin.

The health benefits of chocolate

8. Being messy

If your tables and shelves are full of clutter, it may not be such a bad thing. A messy workspace encourages creative thinking and openness to new ideas, say researchers at the University of Minnesota.

9. Taking a nap

The jury's still out on whether you can genuinely catch up on lost sleep – but it seems having a short afternoon doze may not be such a bad idea after all. Daytime naps of less than 30 minutes (but no longer) could hold the key to happiness, according to a University of Hertfordshire study. Napping can also make you more focused, productive and creative, say the researchers.

Sleep myths examined

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.