Everything fun is bad for you. Or is it? Recent research shows some bad habits might not be as bad as you think. Now, by no means are we suggesting you go out and take up new bad habits, nor are we endorsing any you might currently have. What we are suggesting, however, is that there’s more to them than simply bad health. While many consequences of poor health choices aren’t outweighed by the benefits—don’t know about you, but we’d rather have trouble focusing than, say, lung cancer—at least you have a defense the next time someone nags. Here’s your evidence.
Who doesn’t love a good stiff drink? People who die young, apparently. Despite the well-documented health detriments of booze, drinkers live longer. During a 20-year study released last year, 69 percent of teetotalers died, compared to 60 percent of heavy drinkers and 41 percent of moderate drinkers. This is true even excluding former drinkers who have already destroyed their organs. Even barflies outlive the clean and sober.
Researchers suggest two reasons. Moderate drinkers who have a beer after work to unwind have less stress. But that doesn’t explain the heavy drinkers, because consuming larger amounts of alcohol makes your body feel more stressed, regardless of how your brain feels. Socializing with other drinkers is the other part of the equation. People rarely drink alone, and loneliness is increasingly tied to a shorter lifespan. Prescription? Two drinks a day, with friends. The study’s authors say any more brings health problems that outweigh the benefits.
Of course, drinking often leads to…
Human beings and other primates are notoriously violent creatures. Every culture includes some form of human blood sport, from the pankration of the ancient Greeks to the mixed martial arts of today. But studies show martial arts training actually makes for less violent people. This cuts across all age groups, including the notoriously impetuous young and the overly hormonal adolescents among us.
In 2008, American elementary schools tried a Gentle Warrior program to combat bullying. Not only were the third, fourth and fifth grade boys who participated less likely to bully other children, they were more likely to intervene when seeing another child bullied. (Interestingly, martial arts had no effect on the behavior of girls.) Researchers believe it’s more than the discipline of studying martial arts; the positive experience of removal from criminal environments is also in play. Kids (and presumably adults) learn valuable interpersonal skills, find themselves more connected to their peers and aren’t hanging around after school looking for trashcans to light on fire.
Put succinctly, fighting in a structured environment makes everyone less of an asshole. Who knew?
3. Smoking Grass
“Duuude…anyone seen our careers?”
Yes, dudes, your weed habit has health benefits other than giving you your appetite back after chemo. Though, if you do have cancer, the nightly doobie will do more than just make you hungry. According to the American Association for Cancer Research, it will slow the growth of your tumor. Research further shows that smoking ganja relieves symptoms of diseases and disorders such as Crohn’s Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and migraine headaches. It also prevents seizures and helps people with OCD and Tourette’s relax.
Perhaps most interestingly, a 2009 University of Southern California study found that smoking dope is good for—wait for it—ADD and ADHD. A daily dose works better than Ritalin, without the side effects. Also, anecdotal evidence suggests that giving your girlfriend weed will make her more tolerable during PMS.
Even the man seems to agree. To date, 16 states and DC have have enacted laws legalizing medical marijuana.
4. Smoking Cigarettes
You might decide that lung cancer, emphysema and bad breath are worth the clearer mental focus you get from a nicotine high. Cigarette fiends often invoke improved concentration as a justification for their habit. But are these folks just blowing smoke?
Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College in London say, not at all. They found that smoking significantly improved memory and brain function by making more effective use of glutamine and dopamine. Nicotine reduces the amount of monoamine oxidase (an enzyme that breaks down dopamine) by 30 to 40 percent. Senior citizens who used nicotine patch made decisions faster, cutting the time from 200 milliseconds to under 100.
In other words, if you have trouble concentrating and don’t care if you live past 40, take up smoking. All the cool kids are doing it.
Everyone knows that sex burns calories (35 per half hour for anyone counting) and relieves stress. What you might not know is that intimate moments with your special lady friend boost your immune system.
Sex releases increased amounts of the antibody immunoglobulin A, which prevents colds and other infections. Men who have more sex also have fewer strokes and heart attacks likely related to the exercise gained from sex. A Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health study found that sex twice or more per week cuts the risk of heart attack in half. Coitus also reduces pain by releasing oxytocin— remember that next time she has a headache. Since Movember is coming, we should also tell you that regular orgasms are a key component of prostate health.
Note that the key to prostate health is orgasm, not actual sex. So don’t let a, um, lack of partner prevent you from getting those benefits.
This one is apparently only true of old people, but hey, you’ll get there one day. Senior citizens who gamble are apparently experience better health than those who don’t. Gambling old people report lower rates of depression and alcoholism.
While some scientists suspect that the socializing involved is the key, others disagree: how much contact with other humans goes on at a slot machine? Still there are other, more social games to play at a casino, including blackjack, poker and craps.
As with booze, it’s important to practice moderation, especially when you’re on Social Security. Men reading this have nothing to fear, however. Social Security will be long gone by the time you’re old enough to collect.