Published March 18, 2012
Life isn’t all black and white, it isn’t all good and bad. We all know that there are grey areas in between; and health is no exception. And so, it is with some glee that I present five bad health habits with a built in silver lining.
I am not prescribing these habits, mind you, but if you are practicing them and can’t stop, it’s good to know that there’s an upside.
1. DRINKING COFFEE
Let’s start with coffee. I am a coffee drinker, and so are many of my patients. It is well known that caffeine can increase your heart rate and raises your blood pressure, that it can sour and irritate your stomach and provoke acid reflux. But did you know that caffeinated coffee can also elevate your mood? That in a recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine women who drank 2 to 3 cups of coffee a day had a 15 percent lower risk of depression? Did you know that recent studies have shown that several cups of coffee per day are associated with lower risks of uterine and prostate cancer?
2. SKIPPING WORKOUTS
How about skipping workouts? Studies have shown that 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day decreases your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease, helps your mood, your weight, prevents diabetes, and increases your energy. All these benefits increase when you are active in between workouts. So what about skipping them? It is probably okay to take a day or two off a week to rest your muscles and your psyche. But don't stay away from exercise too long. I am concerned that anything beyond this could break your workout ritual and undermine your discipline.
3. TAKING SLEEPING PILLS
How about sleeping pills? I have the same concern about rhythm and discipline when it comes to sleep. With 50 million prescriptions are written for sleep aids every year in the U.S. A study just published in BMJ Open showed that regular or even occasional use of sleeping pills can lead to a four times greater risk of death. But as I wrote in my book "False Alarm," occasional use of sleeping pills or sedatives can be useful to “break the cycle of worry” that keeps you awake from one night to the next. Anti-histamines can also help you fall asleep during allergy season even as they are drying your nostrils and helping you breath.
What about anger? Full disclosure, I have a bit of a temper. Can expressing anger be productive and good for your health? It may make you feel better, in the short term but it will generally make those around you upset and feel worse --which can create a climate of unease in the longer term. But there is a silver lining. Feeling anger can provide you with an awareness that leads to a course of action to fix the situation that provoked it in the first place. If you take a step back, and sleep on the problem it, it can lead to a productive negotiation with the person who provoked it.
Did you know that a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences demonstrated that stronger men and more attractive women were quicker to anger?
5. DRINKING BEER
Finally, for the fifth bad health habit, I’ve chosen to discuss beer. How can beer have a silver lining, you ask, when it has enough alcohol to harm you and at 150 to 200 calories per serving can pad your gut? The answer is to be found in its minerals and hops. Beer is loaded with iron, and it has more silicon (to strengthen your bones) than oat bran. Beer, like wine, has been found in small quantities to be helpful in improving circulation and decreasing the risk of heart disease. Dark beer, which is especially heavy in hops, has anti-oxidant properties which may help prevent cancer.
Did you know that a recent study showed a 40 percent decrease in kidney stones among middle-aged beer drinking men? No one knows exactly why.
I hope I’ve convinced you that while regular exercise, diet, good sleep, control of emotions, and minimal alcohol or caffeine are your best path to good health. But at the same time, if you happen to have some bad habits that I can’t completely endorse, at least now you know that they come with silver linings. And that's something I can still champion.
Marc Siegel MD is a professor of medicine and medical director of Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Medical Center. He is a member of the Fox News Medical A Team and author of "The Inner Pulse: Unlocking the Secret Code of Sickness and Health."