The Brighter Side of Vices - Optimism Week


By Mark Falanga

Photo courtesy of Kenji Aryan.

Vices. Admit it, we all have them. Guilty pleasures that are just too enjoyable to give up. It’s getting harder to ignore their negative effects, with the constant reminders of health problems the World Health Organization delivers on its website.

But with all of the negative publicity surrounding vices, is there a good side? Is it possible that when we indulge ourselves in an unhealthy habit, that there’s a healthy side effect to it? You know, besides the satisfaction of indulging ourselves? The answer is a resounding…yes!

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are currently 43.5 million people in the United States who smoke tobacco. If you’re one of those people, you’ll find it increasingly hard to enjoy your habit, especially indoors, as major cities across the country have banned smoking inside of all buildings. A quick Google search will tell you how many people hate those who smoke. So if you’re one of the 20 percent of Americans who light up, here are some reasons to lighten up.

Smoking lowers the risk of Parkinson’s disease. The first well-conducted study was published in the March 2010 issue of the Journal of Neurology. They found that the more years and more cigarettes smoked in a day, the lower the risk for Parkinson’s. This was linked to a Harvard study that stated smokers who quit had a higher risk than those who kept on smoking. The reason was inconclusive.

What is even more amazing is that smoking actually makes the heart medication, clopidogrel, perform its job more efficiently . According to WebMD, clopidogrel is a drug used to prevent heart attacks and strokes for people with heart disease, previous strokes, or blood circulation disease. A Korean study done in 2010 says that smoking 10 cigarettes a day made the drug perform better. This is due to proteins called cytochromes, which are activated when people smoke, putting the drug into a more active state.

Smokers aren’t the only ones who can be doing their heart a favor. Chocoholics are also cashing in on their vice with heart healthy habits, just as long as it’s dark chocolate. Rich and bitter dark cocoa has anti-clotting and blood thinning properties that work similar to aspirin. Hence, it puts less strain on the heart and even helps to lower blood pressure. The increased blood flow goes as far as your retina, so it can even improve your vision.

Eating chocolate is not only good for your heart, but it’s good for your skin as well. Dark chocolate contains antioxidants called flavanoids, which helps increase your skin’s resistance to UV damage.

Now that your heart and blood are circulating better, and your skin is protected against UV rays, you may want to go outside for a jog. You better think twice before you do that. Joggers should be mindful to take notice of their environment. Pollution is all around you in forms of vehicle exhaust, smog, and dust. Repeated exposure to this can increase your risk of high blood pressure, asthma, heart disease, and heart attacks.

So if you can’t go outside due to dangerous air, you may as well do something healthy, like play video games. A 2009 study found that people who had mental anguish and high levels of stress were able to reduce their stress level while playing these games. It put their mind at ease as they were trying to relax.

But video games don’t just help with emotional pain, but physical pain as well. Psychologists at the University of Washington developed a game called “Snow World” that distracted patients who were in immense physical pain by throwing virtual snowballs at various targets. In fact, those who played the game required less pain medication than those who didn’t.

Finally, video games are not just for the young, but also the young at heart. Researchers from North Carolina State University found that seniors who occasionally played video games were happier than those who didn’t. Also, those who didn’t play video games were more likely to be depressed.

So when indulging in your vices, you should keep in mind that limited exposure to them can be a good thing every once in a while. Keep all things in moderation. Because as the character Cher says in the 1995 film Clueless, “It is one thing to spark up a doobie and get laced at parties, but it is quite another to be fried all day.”