4 “Bad” Habits It’s Okay to Embrace

By Kate Rockwood |

Don’t waste another second stressing about these so-called vices.

Senior woman eating cake

Everyone has bad habits—those regular behaviors you know probably aren’t great for your health or are maybe even a little embarrassing. But not every so-called bad habit is actually that bad for you.

In some cases, it’s about moderation, or considering how much of an impact the habit is having on your life, says Nancy Irwin, Psy.D., a Los Angeles–based clinical psychologist.

“A great first step is to ask: What could my life or health be like if I gave this habit up?” Irwin says.

In the case of, say, quitting smoking, it’s obvious there would be a big benefit to your health. But in other cases, there may be no clear upside to changing your ways. Your supposedly bad habit might even be doing you some good.

Wondering where your habit falls? Here are four tendencies it’s totally fine to embrace.

Habit #1: Taking an Afternoon Nap

Looking for an excuse to keep up with your afternoon siesta? A 2019 study published in the journal Heart found that adults who napped once or twice per week had a 48 percent lower risk of cardiovascular issues like heart attack, stroke, and heart failure, compared to non-nappers.

And naps don’t just do the body good, they can be good for the mind too. A study published in Journal of the American Geriatrics Society showed that older adults who napped between 30 and 90 minutes every day had better word recall, a sign of memory strength.

There are a few caveats though. For one, the nap-length sweet spot seems to be less than 90 minutes. Longer than that can have negative effects on cognition in older adults, the study found.

If you wake up feeling groggy after a nap or it makes it harder for you to fall asleep at night, you’re napping too long. But if a short snooze helps you feel rested and ready to continue with your day, there’s no reason to cancel your habit.

Habit #2: Eating Dessert

Let yourself eat cake! As long as you don’t have health reasons for watching your sugar and calorie intake, eating dessert now and again is no big deal—especially if you stick to moderate portion sizes. “I recommend having a small, sweet treat you really enjoy, and eating it very mindfully,” says Jennipher Walters, a certified personal trainer and health coach in Kansas City, Missouri. “Really slow down and savor each bite.”

If you have trouble stopping once you get a taste of something sweet, consider buying individually wrapped desserts, such as miniature chocolates or individual ice cream bars. This makes it easy to keep portions in check—and truly enjoy every bite.

Habit #3: Expressing Your Anger

Regularly losing your temper, yelling, name calling, and throwing things—especially in front of others—aren’t healthy ways of expressing anger, Irwin says. In fact, research connects outbursts of anger with a higher risk of stroke and heart attack.

But keeping your anger bottled up isn’t the answer. Instead, it’s healthy to regularly and positively express yourself when angry, Irwin says. That means “being assertive, to the proper party, at the soonest possible appropriate time and place,” she says. “That is being in control of your anger instead of letting it control you.”

This doesn’t mean you have to let it be known every time you’re a little peeved. (Like when the guy in the express grocery checkout lane clearly has more than 15 items.) Instead, focus on calmly and clearly expressing your frustration when the situation warrants it, Irwin says.

Habit #4: Cutting Your Workouts Short

If you have a hard time getting motivated to take an hour-long group fitness class, or your busy schedule just isn’t conducive to lengthy workouts, not to worry.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking. But how you divvy up that 150 minutes is entirely up to you. If you can only squeeze in a 10- or 15-minute workout, that’s far better than nothing at all.

“You can break your exercise up over the course of a week in whatever way works for you and your schedule,” Walters says. “Workouts don’t have to be long to boost your health, fitness, and your mood.”

Workouts also don’t need to feel like so much work, she adds. Standing up and doing a few stretches, taking the stairs, and going for a walk around the neighborhood are all forms of movement, and they all count.

The same is true for activities you enjoy doing, such as swimming, playing tennis, hiking, or dancing. “It’s always easier to find the time for the things you want to do,” Walters says.

Haven’t found a form of movement you love yet? Consider these nine expert-approved options for older adults.

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