VICE #1: Sleeping in.
It’s free, natural and has no drawbacks. More than giving you energy, getting enough quality sleep boosts your immune system, your memory and might even help you manage your weight. Lack of sleep has been linked to high blood pressure, glucose intolerance and belly fat, all known to be risk factors for heart disease. You should aim for the research supported 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. If you always seem to drag yourself out of bed, no matter how much sleep you get the night before, talk to your doctor. A good night’s sleep is not a luxury… it’s necessary to your health and well-being.
VICE #2: Mental health days.
Who doesn’t enjoy sneaking off for a well deserved time out? Turns out taking time off has been shown by research to relieve stress, lowering your blood pressure and thus your risk for heart disease. It also aids creative thinking, and may help with symptoms of depression. The good news is that the length of the vacation doesn’t matter one bit in terms of how happy it will make you. The best part is the anticipation.
VICE #3: Enjoying intimate pleasures.
A vice in some eyes to be sure… sex is, after all, the most pleasurable form of activity there is. It releases feel-good endorphins and oxytocin, the hormone that helps promote attachment, which very much benefits mental health. One study found that those who were sexually active one or two times a week had raised levels of the antibody immunoglobulin A that is thought to protect from colds and infections. As with many vices, sexual activity brings the chance for unintended consequences like infections and pregnancy, which is why it does not top the list.
VICE #4: A daily serving of chocolate.
A worthy, well loved vice. A square or two of the dark kind, without as much sugar and fat as milk chocolate, will do wonders. Dark chocolate and cocoa (75% cocoa content) might help lower blood pressure, cut the risk of stroke and bring other cardiovascular benefits according to more than one study. Dark chocolate has flavonoids that are believed to improve the flexibility of blood vessels, making them more resistant to plaque buildup.
Another study published last year found that eating 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate a day for 14 days reduced the stress hormones in highly anxious people.
VICE #5: Girls/Boys nights out.
Finally, research to back up a vice we all enjoy. A number of recent studies have shown how big an impact friends and family have on our behavior. From what we eat and drink, to how much we weigh (for better or worse). Strong social ties have also been found to bring benefits like fewer colds, better brain health and a longer life. Friendships are so good for you, as long as you’re in a well-balanced relationship with give and take being equal. Avoid those who are toxic to you.
VICE #6: Full fat dressing/sauces.
When it comes to vices, full fat anything is sure to be on the list. The thing is, there’s really no need for you to deprive yourself of the full fat variety of your favorite dressing or sauce. These “loaded” versions not only taste better, but they remind us that fats serve a real health purpose, as long as you get the right kinds in the right amount. Try for 10% (no more than 30%) of your daily fat intake to come from monounsaturated fats (vegetable oils, avocados, many nuts and seeds) that cut 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 might even help ease symptoms of depression, rheumatoid arthritis and other problems. A meal that has a little fat leaves you feeling more satisfied, so you end up actually eating less.
VICE #7: Your morning coffee.
One of the most well known of the vices, coffee continues to be popular. If you’re like many who need that cup of coffee to get going in the morning, don’t feel guilty. There’s a lot of research that suggests coffee doesn’t just pick you up, it also fights heart disease and some cancers. It might also help you perform harder, longer workouts. Moderate coffee drinking in midlife has been linked to lower risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s. What’s more, every added cup of coffee you drink a day drops your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 7%.
VICE #8: Getting a massage.
They may be an expensive indulgence, but massages (by a pro or a loved one) are a vice that is well worth the guilt. Being touched regularly leaves you healthier. Women in a 2008 study noted less pain, depression, anxiety and anger when they got weekly massages by their partners. Their partners reported better mental health too.
VICE #9: Basking in the sun.
Though we all know the dangers of too much sun, this vice, in moderation, has its good side. Those sun filled days act as a natural anti-depressant, really working to improve moods. It triggers our bodies to cut production of the sleep stimulating hormone melatonin so we feel alert, energized and ready to take on the day. Letting the skin soak up the sun (without sunscreen) also triggers the natural synthesis of vitamin D, believed to reduce risks for cancer, heart disease, brittle bones and other conditions.
VICE #10: Wine with dinner.
Last but not least, the ‘good’ vice that most hinges on moderation. Though researchers don’t know precisely why it works, wine does have some impressive heart healthy properties. The antioxidants may keep blood vessels flexible, or alcohol could help boost HDL (the good) cholesterol. All you need is one 5 ounce glass a day to enjoy the benefit, more than this can up your blood pressure and cause you to pack on pounds. Women who drink heavily also boost their risk of breast cancer.