10 Bad Habits That Sometimes Do Us Good

(1) Fidgeting helps burn calories
While fidgeting might be annoying for individuals and those around them, it is an activity that expends energy and burns calories. Fidgeting is one of a number of activities (along with walking, gardening, typing, tidying up, etc.) that are known as non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). In basic terms, NEAT is any activity that is not eating, sleeping, or sporting exercise. A number of studies carried out by obesity expert Dr. James Levine at the US Mayo Clinic (Arizona, US) have shown that individuals who fidget burn up about 350kcal a day. This is because fidgeting speeds up an individual’s metabolism by stimulating neurochemicals in the body thus increasing the ability to convert body fat into energy. So, if you are a compulsive foot tapper, an excessive thumb twiddler, or a restless doodler, just remember that all of these activities burn calories.

(2) Chewing gum helps boost thinking and alertness
Watching people chew gum is not a pretty sight, but if English football managers are anything to go by, chewing gum appears to be a stress relieving activity. In fact, there appear to appear to be many cognitive benefits of chewing gum. Dr. Kin-ya Kubo and colleagues in the book Senescence and Senescence-Related Disorders noted that chewing gum immediately before performing a cognitive task increases blood oxygen levels in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus (important brain structures involved in learning and memory), thereby improving task performance. Dr. Kubo argues that chewing gum may therefore be a drug-free and simple method of helping those with senile dementia and stress-related disorders that are often associated with cognitive dysfunction. Another study by Dr. Yoshiyuki Hirano and colleagues showed that chewing gum boosts thinking and alertness, and that reaction times among chewers were 10% faster than non-chewers. The research team also reported that up to eight areas of the brain are affected by chewing (most notably the areas concerning attention and movement). As Professor Andy Smith (Cardiff University, UK) neatly summed up: “The effects of chewing on reaction time are profound. Perhaps football managers arrived at the idea of chewing gum by accident, but they seem to be on the right track.”

(3) Playing video games helps relieve pain
Many individuals who do not play video games view the activity as a complete waste of time and potentially addictive. While excessive video game playing may cause problems in a minority of individuals, there is a lot of scientific evidence that playing video games can have beneficial effects. For instance, a number of studies have shown that children with cancer who play video games after chemotherapy take less pain killing medication. Video games have also been used as pain relieving therapy for other medical conditions such as burns victims and those with back pain. This is because playing video games is an engaging and engrossing activity that means the player cannot think about anything else but playing the game (and is what psychologists refer to as a ‘cognitive distractor task’). Pain has a large psychological component and individuals experience less pain if the person is engaged in an activity that takes up all their cognitive mind space. As well as being a pain reliever, there are also many studies showing that playing video games increase hand-eye coordination, increase reaction times, and have educational learning benefits.
(4) Eating snot helps strengthen the immune system (maybe)
How does it make you feel when you see someone picking their nose and then eating what they have found? Disgust? Contempt? Amused? In 2008, Dr. Friedrich Bischinger, an Austrian lung specialist, claimed that picking your nose and eating it was good for you. He claimed that people who pick their noses with their fingers were healthy, happier and probably better in tune with their bodies than those who didn’t. Dr. Bischinger believed that eating the dry remains of what you pull out of your nose is a great way of strengthening the body's immune system. He explained that in terms of the immune system, the nose is a filter in which a great deal of bacteria are collected, and when this mixture arrives in the intestines it works just like a medicine. He said that “people who pick their nose and eat it get a natural boost to their immune system for free. I would recommend a new approach where children are encouraged to pick their nose. It is a completely natural response and medically a good idea as well.” He went on to suggest that if anyone was worried about what other people think, they should pick their noses privately if they want to get the benefits.  This view is also shared by Dr. Scott Napper, a biochemist at the University of Saskatchewan. He theorises that hygiene improvement has led to the increase in allergies and auto-immune disorders and that eating snot may boost the immune system by ingesting small and harmless amounts of germs into the body. The same theory has also been applied to another bad habit —biting fingernails—because again, the act of biting nails introduces germs directly into a person’s orifices.

(5) Daydreaming helps problem solving
Daydreaming is something that can occupy up to one-third of our waking lives and is often viewed as a sign of laziness, inattentiveness and/or procrastination. However, scientific research has shown that the ‘executive network’ in our brain is highly active when we daydream. A study carried out by Professor Kalina Christoff and colleagues and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found activity in numerous brain regions while daydreaming, including areas associated with complex problem solving. These brain regions were more active during a daydream compared to during routine tasks. It is believed that when an individual uses conscious thought they can become too rigid and limited in their thinking. The findings suggest that daydreaming is an important cognitive state where individuals turn their attention from immediate tasks to unconsciously think about problems in their lives. Christoff says that "when you daydream, you may not be achieving your immediate goal—say reading a book or paying attention in class—but your mind may be taking that time to address more important questions in your life, such as advancing your career or personal relationships.” In addition to this, Dr. Eric Klinger of the University of Minnesota has argued that daydreaming also serves an evolutionary purpose. When individuals are engaged on one task, daydreaming can trigger reminders of other, concurrent goals so that they do not lose sight of them.

(6) Swearing helps reduce pain and relieve work stress
Although swearing has become increasingly commonplace, most people would agree it is a bad habit. However, research has shown that swearing can help alleviate pain. In an experimental study led by Dr. Richard Stephens (at Keele University, UK) in the journal Neuroreport, results showed that individuals who swore (compared to individuals that didn’t) could endure the pain of putting their hand in a bucket of ice-cold water nearly 50% longer (nearly two minutes for those that swore compared to one minute 15 seconds for those that said a neutral non-swearword instead). Dr. Stephens thought of the idea for doing the study after accidentally hitting his thumb with a hammer while building a garden shed and realizing that simultaneous swearing appeared to help reduce the pain. The researchers speculated that swearing might trigger our natural 'fight-or-flight' response by downplaying a weakness or threat in order to deal with it. However, there appears to be a caveat. Swearing may only be effective in helping reduce pain if it is a casual habit. Dr. Stephens cautioned that swearing is emotional language but if individuals overuse it, swearing loses its emotional attachment, and is less likely to help alleviate pain. Research published in the Leadership and Organization Development Journal by Professor Yehuda Baruch (University of East Anglia, U.K.) found that regular use of swearing expressed and reinforced solidarity among staff members. The acts of profanity enabled employees to express their feelings, such as frustration, and develop social relationships.

(7) Being messy helps boost creativity
Being messy—whether it’s a messy work desk or a messy bedroom—has often perceived as a sign of being disorganized. However, recent American research published in the journal Psychological Science by Dr. Kathleen Vohs and colleagues (at the Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota) suggests that being messy can boost creativity. Vohs and her team carried out a number of experiments and published them in a paper entitled ‘Physical order produces healthy choices, generosity, and conventionality, whereas disorder produces creativity.’ In one of the experiments, 48 participants were assigned to either a messy or tidy room. Participants were asked to think up as many uses for ping pong balls as they could and to write them down. Independent judges then rated the participants’ answers for degree of creativity. Results showed that participants in both tidy and messy rooms produced the same number of ideas, but those generating ideas in the messy room were more creative. Those in the messy room were (on average) 28% more creative and were five times more likely to produce “highly creative” ideas. Dr. Vohs concluded that messiness and creativity are very strongly correlated, and that “while cleaning up certainly has its benefits, clean spaces might be too conventional to let inspiration flow.”

(8) Having a lie-in helps reduce heart attacks and strokes
While the old proverb that ‘the early bird catches the worm’ might be true, the old saying ‘early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy and wise’ may not be. According to Dr. Mayuko Kadono, a Japanese physician at Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine, getting up too early in the morning may have serious health consequences. Kadono has led a number of studies on sleep and its relationship with health. In one of his studies of 3,017 healthy adults, it was reported that those individuals getting up before 5 a.m. and engaging in vigorous exercise have a 1.7 times greater risk of high blood pressure and were twice as likely to develop cardiovascular disease as those who got up two to three hours later. The number of hours slept did not make a difference, only the time of getting up. Dr. Kadono said the results were “contrary to the commonly held belief that early birds are in better health. We need to find what the causes of this are, and whether exercising after waking early is beneficial." A study conducted by American researchers at Stanford University found that the most restorative sleep occurs between 2:00 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. More general research has found that getting enough sleep can help individuals’ reduce their stress and boost their memory. In short, it’s better to wake up when your body feels ready to get up (i.e., aligning with your body’s natural circadian rhythm) rather than waking up because your alarm clock has gone off.

(9) Gossiping helps friendships and relieves stress
Gossiping is often perceived as a malicious and untrustworthy behavior but most individuals appear to like gossiping—particularly if it is about the misfortunes of someone else. One of the reasons we like to hear about other people’s problems is that it makes us feel better about ourselves. However, there is also a growing amount of psychological research showing that gossiping may actually have positive benefits. Gossiping is important in helping us bond with other people, promoting cooperation, friendship, and learning about cultural norms. These consequences of gossip make us feel good, and when we feel good it helps us relieve stress, tension, and anxiety. In a recent American study published in the journal Psychological Science by Dr. Matthew Feinberg (Stanford University) and colleagues, it was reported that gossip and ostracism can have positive effects within group situations. According to Feinberg, "groups that allow their members to gossip sustain cooperation and deter selfishness better than those that don't. And groups do even better if they can gossip and ostracize untrustworthy members. While both of these behaviors can be misused, [the] findings suggest that they also serve very important functions for groups and society.” The evolutionary psychologist Dr. Robin Dunbar (University of Oxford, U.K.) notes that because language is principally used for the exchange of social information and that such topics are so overwhelmingly important, he concludes that “gossip is what makes human society as we know it possible”.

(10) Burping and farting help relieve bloating and stomach pain
Burping and farting may well be viewed as bad habits, but both are a normal part of the body digestion process, both acts help release unwanted gas that builds up inside the stomach, and both are vital for good gastric health. Farting is particularly beneficial for relieving bloating and preventing oneself from breaking wind can be incredibly painful. Dr Nick Read, a British consultant gastroenterologist warns “If you don’t belch and the gas stays on the stomach, this can cause the valve that separates the gullet and the stomach to relax, allowing stomach acid to splash up into the gullet, triggering heartburn.” In relation to farting he added “We evacuate wind for a reason—it forms in the bowel and we need to get rid of it. Holding it back can also trigger pain. A colleague used to call it Metropolitan Railway Syndrome—all these commuters suffered pain and bloating because they were too embarrassed to break wind on public transport.” All this leads to the conclusion that it’s the act of not burping or farting that should be considered bad habits. As I was often told by one of my aunts: “It’s better out than in.”

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