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Good Vices That Benefit Our Health

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VICE #1: Sleep in.

It’s free, natural and has no downsides. Getting enough good sleep not only gives you energy, but also boosts your immune system, your memory, and can even help you control your weight. Lack of sleep has been linked to high blood pressure, glucose intolerance and belly fat, all known risk factors for heart disease. You should aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night, which is supported by research. If you always seem to drag yourself out of bed no matter how much sleep you got the night before, talk to your doctor. A good night’s sleep is not a luxury…it is essential to your health and well-being.

VICE #2: Mental Health Days.

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Who doesn’t like to sneak into a well-deserved break? Taking time out has been shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and therefore your risk of heart disease. It also supports creative thinking and can help with symptoms of depression. The good news is that the length of the vacation doesn’t matter how happy it will make you. The best thing is the anticipation.

VICE #3: Enjoying Intimate Pleasures.

Certainly a vice in some eyes… After all, sex is the most pleasurable form of activity there is. It releases feel-good endorphins and oxytocin, the hormone that promotes bonding, which is great for mental health. One study found that those who were sexually active once or twice a week had elevated levels of the antibody immunoglobulin A, which is thought to protect against colds and infections. As with many vices, sexual activity carries the possibility of unintended consequences such as infection and pregnancy, which is why it doesn’t top the list.

VICE #4: A daily helping of chocolate.

A worthy, popular vice. A square or two of the dark variety, without as much sugar and fat as milk chocolate, works wonders. Dark chocolate and cocoa (75% cocoa solids) may help lower blood pressure, lower risk of stroke and other cardiovascular benefits, according to more than one study. Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, which are believed to improve blood vessel flexibility and make them more resistant to plaque build-up.

Another study published last year found that eating 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate per day for 14 days reduced stress hormones in very anxious people.

VICE #5: Girls/Boys Nights.

Finally, research to substantiate a vice we all enjoy. A number of recent studies have shown the great influence that friends and family have on our behavior. From what we eat and drink to our weight (for better or for worse). Strong social bonds have also been found to bring benefits such as fewer colds, better brain health, and longer lives. Friendships are so good for you as long as you are in a balanced relationship where give and take are equal. Avoid the ones that are toxic to you.

VICE #6: Full Fat Dressings/Sauces.

When it comes to vices, surely anything is on the list. The thing is, you really don’t have to go without the bold variety of your favorite dressing or sauce. Not only do these “loaded” versions taste better, but they remind us that fats serve a real health purpose as long as you get the right types in the right amounts. Aim for 10% (no more than 30%) of your daily fat intake to come from monounsaturated fats (vegetable oils, avocados, lots of nuts and seeds), which reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Omega-3 fatty acids (salmon and tuna, flaxseed, and walnuts) also reduce the risk of heart disease and may even help relieve symptoms of depression, rheumatoid arthritis, and other issues. A meal that contains a little fat makes you happier, so you end up eating less.

VICE #7: Your morning coffee.

One of the most well-known vices, coffee, remains popular. If like many others you need that cup of coffee to get you going in the morning, don’t feel guilty. There is a lot of research that suggests that coffee not only cheers you up but also fights heart disease and some cancers. It can also help you do harder and longer workouts. Moderate coffee consumption in midlife has been associated with a lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. In addition, every extra cup of coffee you drink every day reduces your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 7%.

VICE #8: Getting a massage.

They may be an expensive indulgence, but getting a massage (from a professional or a loved one) is a vice worth the blame. Regular touches make you healthier. In a 2008 study, women found less pain, depression, anxiety, and anger when they received weekly massages from their partners. Their partners also reported better mental health.

VICE #9: Basking in the sun.

While we all know the dangers of too much sun, this vice, in moderation, has its good points. Those sunny days act like a natural antidepressant that really helps lift the mood. It causes our body to reduce production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, leaving us feeling awake, energetic, and ready for the day. When the skin soaks up the sun (without sunscreen), it also triggers the natural synthesis of vitamin D, which is believed to reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, brittle bones and other conditions.

VICE #10: Wine with Dinner.

Last but not least, the “good” vice that depends most on moderation. Although researchers don’t know exactly why it works, wine does have some impressive heart-healthy properties. The antioxidants may keep blood vessels flexible, or alcohol may help raise HDL (the good) cholesterol. All you need is one 5 ounce glass per day to reap the benefits. More than this can raise your blood pressure and cause you to gain pounds. Women who drink heavily also increase their risk of breast cancer.

Thanks to Kirsten Whittaker

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