When Vices Are Good for You

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We all have our guilty pleasures, and likewise, we all have our own unique ways of rationalizing them. I personally seem to eat a cookie or brownie with every meal except breakfast. (OK, I'm lying, with breakfast too, sometimes.) Depending on the day, I'll explain it away by arguing that I've earned it by working or I need that miniscule caffeine boost or I just claim I'll walk it off later. But I digress.

While there's no doubt that smoking or drinking too much can negatively impact your health and endanger the well-being of those around you, some vices can actually be positive. So, if nothing else, consider this a laundry list of excuses you can throw at your critics next time they bust you for engaging in your favorite guilty pleasure.

Video Games

Parents will undoubtedly cringe reading this sentence, but despite all the criticism, a number of studies have come out over the years touting the health benefits of playing video games. In 2003, a group of American researchers found that gamers who played point and shoot games developed better than average visual skills and were better at dealing with distractions. Similarly, many health clinics began using video game consoles a few years ago to help kids and adults deal with their attention deficit disorder by learning how to focus on the games for long periods of time.

Beyond that, just this week the American Heart Association announced they would start promoting the Nintendo Wii as a good tool to get Americans to be more physically active. Unlike other video games, the Wii control responds to the gestures that the user makes, which means players must move around a lot more. The AHA went so far as to argue that "active-play video games can be an integral part of a healthy lifestyle." Before this, the Wii was also heralded as a great tool to help physical therapy patients.

Of course, parents have every right to be wary of letting their children play extremely graphic and violent games. (Although some gamers argue this too can be good for the soul by allowing users to confront their dark side.) Yet, it seems clear that video games are far from universally bad and, truth be told, picking out the right games and consoles might just make your life a little bit better.

Beer

Earlier this year, a study came out claiming that beer may actually be good for your bones. According to Discovery, certain brews contain a fair amount of silicon, which helps to fortify your bones. Just imagine, one day we may start seeing spinoffs of those milk advertisements, but for beer. Got stout?

Additionally, Forbes notes that studies have shown drinking beer in moderation can help improve cholesterol, prevent diabetes and fight cardiovascular disease. Yet, it's important to say again that each of these studies encourages drinking only in moderation, so don't take this as a sign that you can start binge drinking to improve your health. That probably won't work.

Check out our roundup of the best cheap beers on the market.

Wine

As long as we're talking about alcohol, wine has long been associated with some very positive health effects. According to MSN, drinking a glass or two of wine a day can help prevent heart disease, Alzheimer's and even some forms of cancer. And like beer, wine can help improve your cholesterol and help your blood pressure. Similarly, the Mayo Clinic notes that resveratol, an antioxidant found in red wine, may be good for the heart and prevent blood clots. There is also an ongoing debate about whether wine is the reason why the French have such low incidences of heart disease despite their rich diet. They do drink a lot of wine, but other factors may be at play here, like their smaller meal portions.

Coffee

I generally refrain from drinking coffee just because I know too many people who are so addicted to it that they will start feeling sick without their daily (or hourly) coffee fix. But all you java-guzzlers out there should have a toast because there are plenty of studies attesting to the health benefits of drinking a cup of joe. According to WebMD, one Harvard study found that drinking several cups of coffee a day will significantly reduce your chance of getting diabetes, and six other studies have found that drinking coffee regularly can help prevent Parkinson's disease.

Other studies have found that coffee reduces the risk of liver cancer by 50% and while the drink may not improve your blood pressure, it seems not to increase it much either, though it could lead to a slight increase in your cholesterol level. But hey, you can just have a beer to fix that.

Check out MainStreet's roundup of the most caffeinated drinks currently on the market.

Depression

Now this may strike people as strange, but even though despair is considered one of the seven deadly sins, depression could end up helping you a bit in the long run. There is no doubt that depression is a painful and often dangerous state of mind, but psychiatrists and researchers have argued more recently that depression may actually be a valuable trait in terms of evolution because it can make people wiser and more analytical. Plus, in a more practical sense, suffering through a period of depression can ultimately lead you to make crucial changes to your life – a new job, a new relationship - in order to steer yourself to a better and more fulfilling state of mind.

Marijuana

Just to be clear, we're not advocating that you buy a bag of pot once you're done reading this, but as Associated Content points out, marijuana is useful to treat a number of symptoms from various ailments, including nausea (for cancer patients) and eye pressure (to treat glaucoma). According to AskMen.com, marijuana's ability to boost the appetite (i.e. the munchies) may also prove helpful to AIDS patients who actually need to eat more to stay healthy. For a while, it was also thought to help stave off Alzheimer's, but a study earlier this year contradicted that.

Sex

I'm not sure whether or not it's fair to call this a vice, although we tend to think badly of people who are sex-obsessed (cough... David Duchovny... cough). That said, sex can actually be very healthy for you. WebMD notes that having sex burns calories (85 or more every half hour), helps with stress, and may increase your immunity to diseases by raising the levels of a particular antibody in your system. Similarly, FoxNews notes that sex can help cure headaches and serve as a general pain relief thanks to the boost in your endorphins during the act.

Red Meat

For a long time now, red meat has been associated with health problems like high cholesterol, heart disease and cancer, which could lead to a premature death. But as we reported recently, a new study has found that much of this may actually be attributable to processed meats, which contain lots of salt, rather than fresh beef. If that proves to be the case, fresh red meats may get a nice publicity boost, which is good because in general, these provide a good amount of protein too.

As a final note though, remember that overdoing it on these vices may not only have a serious impact on your health but also your financial well-being. Check out our slideshow on the real cost of your vices to learn how much money the average alcoholic wastes on their habit.

—For a comprehensive credit report, visit the BankingMyWay.com Credit Center.

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