By Dr Adam Simon

6 Bad Habits That Could Actually Improve Your Health

We've all got habits we'd rather people didn't know about. However, there are some things that we really don't need to be so ashamed of.

By keeping our 'bad' habits a secret, we forget that there are two sides to every story. Are you actually looking after your health without even realising?

We all have that one friend who's always late. While we might find it annoying, their habit has been strongly linked to a more optimistic outlook on life. See how a potential negative can be turned into a positive?

Our doctors have taken a more balanced look at six habits often regarded as 'bad'.

1. Playing computer games

From a young age, we're told that sitting in front of a screen all day will give you square eyes. It turns out the opposite is true.

A 2009 article in National Geographic found that gaming in moderation can actually improve your vision. Many games have a habit of hiding stuff, from items your character might need to enemies lurking in the shadows. This means you have to work hard and pay attention to spot them.

Your newly-honed sharp eyesight can be applied to plenty of real-world situations, as can the important gaming mentality of not quitting when things go wrong.

There's more. A 2013 study published in Molecular Psychiatry asked a group of people in their 20s to play Super Mario 64 for half an hour every day for two months. Researchers then compared their brains with those of people who hadn't played the game. They discovered that everyone's favourite plumber had stimulated areas of the brain responsible for memory, spatial awareness and strategic planning.

Their findings suggested that video games could be used to treat people who have damaged certain parts of their brain.

Further studies have investigated the possibility of using computer games to reduce stress in patients waiting for an operation, or even to relieve pain through the power of distraction.

A word of warning, though. Remember earlier, when we used that word 'moderation'? We meant it. Generally, gaming for more than four hours without a break is considered too much. Any amount that gets in the way of everyday life, or stops you getting any exercise, is a bad idea.

2. Having fat in your diet

Lots of people wrongly see all fat as bad. The fact is, you couldn't live without it.

Fat provides one of your body's biggest energy sources. Many vitamins, including A, D, E and K, can only be absorbed by your body through fat, so your body would be unable to use them if you didn't have at least a small amount in your diet.

What's important is eating the right sort of fat. The unsaturated fat found in foods such as oily fish, avocado, nuts, seeds and olive oil is the sort our bodies need to function properly.

It's still fat, so you can't eat an unlimited amount, but it's certainly good for you in small doses. Oily fish, in particular, contains a fatty acid called omega-3 that's great for brain development.

Sadly, this isn't the sort of fat many of us eat. The British diet tends to contain far too much saturated fat. This includes dairy and meat products, which covers pizza, burgers, hot dogs, pies, pastries, cakes, biscuits and chocolate bars. All the fun stuff, basically.

Saturated fat raises your cholesterol and increases your risk of heart disease. Nutritionists recommend that we eat no more than 30g a day. Do you know how much saturated fat is in your diet? If not, it might be time to find out!

3. Drinking coffee

Caffeine hasn't always enjoyed the best reputation, but there's plenty of research to show that, in moderation, your morning coffee has plenty of health benefits.

A 2017 study conducted by researchers in Southampton and Edinburgh suggests that two cups of coffee a day can cut liver cancer risk by a third. Similar studies have also found that a small amount of caffeine can cut your risk of Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, diabetes and heart disease.

In the short term, it can boost your mental performance, including concentration and memory. If you're flagging, coffee will boost you for around 45mins, but this should only be a last resort strategy. If you're tired all the time, you must address the underlying cause, rather than covering it up with coffee.

4. Swearing

Growing up, you were probably taught that swearing was a sign of poor education, or low vocabulary. Not so, it seems.

Studies have shown that swearing can actually improve your relationships with friends and colleagues. It suggests a level of familiarity with the other person that's absent in more formal situations. Strengthening social bonds in this way has a positive impact on your mental health.

Swearing has physical benefits too. A 2017 study from the University of Keele investigated the power of swearing and found it improved exercise performance and reduced pain sensitivity.

Test subjects pedalled an exercise bike for 30 seconds. Half repeated a swear word as they worked, while the others said nothing. Those who swore pedalled more powerfully. A similar test required people to grip an object and found the swearers exerted more force.

Bottling up stress and frustration is a bad idea. Over time, it can increase your risk of mental health issues and even heart attacks. If you're having a bad day, dropping a few four-letter words could be the best medicine.

5. Having a lie-in

We all know that between 7-9 hours a night is the recommended amount of sleep. That two-hour window leaves the whole idea of a lie-in open to debate. There's a big difference between waking at 7am and crawling out of bed at 9am.

You should sleep as much as your body needs to recover - provided you still get to work on time, of course! The important thing is consistency. If you go to sleep and wake up at roughly the same time each day, your body gets used to the pattern.

The odd weekend lie-in isn't the end of the world, provided it remains the exception rather than the norm. Sleeping too much or too little is what increases your risk of health problems, such as obesity and diabetes.

6. Not making your bed

After that lie-in, chances are you probably don't have time to make your bed. However, it turns out that's not such a bad thing.

While numerous studies have shown that being messy can make you more creative, from a health perspective there's something that interests us more.

Dust mites.

These little critters love warm, humid environments, which makes beds the perfect place for them to set up home. By leaving the duvet scrunched up in a corner of the bed, you avoid creating the layer of humid air that dust mites thrive in. This can potentially save you a night of coughing and sneezing.

Everything in moderation

As you can see, in many cases a bad habit is simply too much of a good thing. By cutting back just a little, it's still possible to do all the things you enjoy. You might even improve your health!

In the meantime, if you do have a bad habit you want to deal with, hit the button below for more great advice from our doctors.

Break your bad habits