Turns out, your guilty pleasures (red wine, video games) may not be so guilty after all. And those pesky side effects of being an adult—stress, anyone?—can actually benefit you too. Read on to learn the positives of your seemingly negative habits.
1 Say Yes to Stress
As long as stress doesn’t completely overtake you (too much burns the body out), a little bit isn’t such a bad thing. “It can motivate you into action and clear the mind,” says Judith Orloff, MD, author of Emotional Freedom and a psychiatrist at UCLA. According to Dr. Orloff, good stress is defined as when you experience a short burst of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which rev up your system, propelling you to better handle and complete tasks. A little stress has helped actors give their finest performances and brides plan the most elaborate weddings. Adds Orloff, “The stress hormones help make you more present, so you are sharper.”
2 Meaty Subject
Meat often gets a bad rap—the threats of obesity, high cholesterol, and even colon cancer are enough to make anyone decline that next barbecue invitation—but experts now advise that you can have your steak and spare the guilt. “Some beef fat is monounsaturated, which is the kind of fat that is good for you and actually helps lower LDL, or bad cholesterol, like the kind found in olive oil and avocado,” says George Faison, COO of DeBragga and Spitler and owner of DeBragga.com, an online purveyor of high-quality meats. Meat from grass-fed cattle, Faison explains, is also lower in saturated fat than conventionally raised beef and has more omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and conjugated linoleic acid—all healthy, beneficial components. In fact, according to the American Meat Institute, there are 29 cuts of lean beef that have fewer calories and are leaner than the same size serving of salmon. (And, really, who wants to serve salmon at a barbecue?)
3 Special Dark
Though milk chocolate might win in a popularity contest, many experts have been lauding dark chocolate (especially the variety containing high cocoa content) because it’s chock-full of antioxidants. And according to Jordan Rubin, New York Times best-selling author of The Maker’s Diet, the sweet stuff releases endorphins and serotonin, which act as antidepressants. Some proponents also say that just a few pieces of the excellent-quality dark chocolate can seriously curb your cravings. It’s rich in chemicals that stabilize your brain when it longs for sugar—so it goes a long way. For another healthy bonus, go organic, too: “Regular chocolate is sprayed with heavy pesticides that we end up consuming,” Rubin says.
4 Let the Sunshine In!
After all we’ve learned about the sun’s damaging effects—uneven pigmentation, sagging skin, premature wrinkles, and, most insidious of all, melanoma—who wouldn’t want to swear off the beach and see the parasol experience a sartorial renaissance. But let’s not act too hastily. Turns out, the sun helps your body generate much-needed vitamin D, which can combat osteoporosis. “Vitamin D is necessary because it helps you absorb calcium, which everyone needs,” says Alexandra Fingesten, MD, a doctor of internal medicine affiliated with New York University. “If you’re working inside all day, it’s important to get outside, even for a little bit. And consult with your doctor about taking calcium and vitamin D supplements.” Just don’t forget your SPF of 20 or higher when you do venture outside—even for the shortest jaunts.
5 Information Overload?
While some say multitasking dilutes your focus (and we know you’re tending to your Twitter account as you read this), for many people, the positives—like increased productivity—significantly outweigh the negatives. “I know people whose multitasking energizes and stimulates them and makes them feel at the top of their game,” says Dr. Orloff. That’s the case for Jim Sexton, CEO of Z-Line Designs, who employs thousands of people around the globe, sponsors NASCAR and Indy Car teams, and typically focuses on 20 or 30 design projects a day. “That’s the way I work and thrive,” says Sexton, whose schedule often results in his having had dinner in five different states in as many days. “I’ve always been this way.”
6 The Buzz on Coffee
While we recommend keeping your caffeine consumption in check, in Eat Drink and Be Healthy by Walter Willett, MD, (co-developed by the Harvard School of Public health), coffee is said to help decrease the possibility of developing kidney stones (because of its diuretic components) and gallstones (as it prevents stone formation). Also, the libation contains antioxidants, which have shown to lower the risk of diabetes and has antidepressant properties. “It helps elevate serotonin and dopamine in the body and boosts your mood,” says Dr. Orloff. However, she warns against drinking more than three cups a day: “It can burn out your gastric lining.”
7 Daydream Believer
As a third-grader at St. Pat’s Elementary in Hubbard, Ohio, Patrick Scullin was “lambasted” for his daydreaming ways, especially during math class. The word was that daydreaming was unproductive and unfocused. But allowing his mind to wander served him quite well in his adman career, as a founding partner of Ames Scullin O’Haire Advertising, a firm that has earned more than $110 million in billings. “My best ideas come when I'm not trying to think of them. If you want your muse to feed you, study a problem and then don't think about it,” advises Scullin. “Daydream. Let your mind meander and your imagination run free. Soon the gift of ideas will be delivered.”
8 In Vino Veritas
We don’t have to convince you of wine’s pesky social side effects—you can check your text-message outbox for unsettling evidence of last night’s debauchery. But when it comes to various health benefits, oenophiles are in luck. “The resveratrol found in wine is a powerful antioxidant that is stronger than antioxidant vitamins,” says Richard Baxter, MD, a physician and author of Age Gets Better with Wine, out this summer. And in The Red Wine Diet, scientist Roger Corder reveals that certain red wines, especially from southwest France, are more beneficial for living a longer, healthy life. Wines made from the tannat grape there have the highest levels of procyanidins (responsible for keeping blood vessels clear and preventing heart disease) than any another wine in the world.
9 Get Your Game On
Okay. We know what you’re thinking. But with the advent of the Wii, you can’t be a couch potato because playing requires you to move. (And now other companies are developing active programs too.) In fact, the game is a million times more interactive than watching TV. “Before the Wii, who ever worked up a sweat playing a video game in their living room?” says Paul Bragan, executive director at Wakefield Research, a leading gaming researcher. “Using a wireless controller, you can bowl and play baseball and tennis all from your family room.” And certain games inspire children to interact with parents and adults. “Last year, a British magazine revealed that Queen Elizabeth became an avid video gamer after joining her grandson Prince William in a game of Wii,” says Bragan. “I’d call that a royal vote of confidence.”
Reader’s Digest reporters interviewed 25 dentists for their story in the July 2009 issue “50 Secrets Your Dentist Will Never Tell You.” Their findings? Chewing gum actually prevents cavities. Studies show that if you want to reduce bad bacteria, xylitol (a sugar substitute found in chewing gum) helps change the chemistry of your mouth. Six or seven pieces of xylitol gum every day will help keep cavities away. “And chewing gum triggers saliva, which also aids in preventing cavities,” says the magazine’s deputy editor, Lisa Davis. (However, in a related study, gum cracking was found to be irritating by 100 percent of participants.)
11 Love Thy Frenemy
Can it really be good to have a one-upping frenemy? Actually, it is, say some experts. “It can definitely make life a little more challenging and interesting,” says Andrea Lavinthal, coauthor of Friend or Frenemy?: A Guide to the Friends You Need and the Ones You Don't. “Some healthy competition can propel you in a positive way and keep you on your toes.” If your frenemy goes on a diet and loses a lot of weight, chances are you will hit the treadmill with more vigor and out-diet her. Besides, a frenemy can make you aware of your negative behavior and help keep you in check. “You know how there is always one girl in a group of friends who ‘tells it like it is’ whether you want to hear it or not?” says Lavinthal. “That honesty, while annoying and sometimes hurtful, can also be really helpful.”
12 Shout It Out
We all know the dangers of keeping emotions bottled up (err, psych 101?)—but some parenting experts say that it’s important to let off a little steam and show your kids when you are angry with them—for your sake and theirs! Yell at them, you ask? “Sometimes children do things to make you angry. They need to understand the consequences, and you have to be more stern and harsh to reinforce the message,” says Bennett Leventhal, MD, a professor of psychiatry at the Institute for Juvenile Research, University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago. And yes, in certain situations, it’s even acceptable to shout. “While as a guide, we don’t want to yell at our children, especially with routine communication,” says Dr. Leventhal, “in an emergency or crisis, yelling is good to gain their attention. But afterward you should always explain why you were angry.”