GOOD

The Surprising Health Benefits of a Bad Economy

Being laid off might be better for you than you think.

When you consider what you could do to improve your physical health, you probably think about activities you’d make a New Year’s resolution about: Go to the gym more, ride your bike to work, don’t finish the whole pint of Chunky Monkey in one sitting. But there’s something else you probably never imagined could be good for your health in any way—a recession.


Yep, that period around 2008 or so—which you may have spent fretting about finding a job or losing one, or maybe moving back in with your parents—was actually good for the health of the population at large, according to a report by University of Virginia professor Christopher Ruhm that was released in October by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The research uncovered extensive evidence that “health-enhancing activities such as exercise and social interactions increase” during bad economic times, while harmful behaviors decrease, writes Ruhm, a professor of public policy and economics. The analysis examines prior research on the subject and uses state- and county-level data from the United States between 1976 and 2013.

An earlier report by Ruhm implied that a single percentage point increase in a state's unemployment rate resulted in a .54 percent decrease in loss of life—in effect, “saving” 13,000 lives. That may be because, as economist Ryan D. Edwards wrote in a 2011 review of American time use, “When unemployment is high, consumers report spending more time sleeping, preparing food and eating or drinking, socializing and relaxing, and using the telephone, while they spend less time working and traveling for work.”

A 2005 European Journal of Population study examining the link between recessions and life expectancy in Spain during a 17-year period of high unemployment cites several previous studies indicating that when the economy’s in the dumps, people tend to have less work stress, sleep more, and benefit from better immunity, along with a higher chance of beating infectious diseases. They also enjoy a lower risk of injury, partly because there’s less traffic when there are fewer people driving to and from work.

Looking at the flip side (the unhealthy side effects of work), we see that the Mamas & the Papas have a reason to be cryin’ whenever Monday comes: Various studies have shown that much-lamented day to be the weekly peak for cardiac incidents. That may be related to obesity, a health concern whose most significant predictor is long working hours, according to a 2009 study in the journal Industrial Health.

In some cases, the key factor determining whether or not people make healthy choices may be the price tag. When the financial crisis hit Iceland in 2008, longitudinal survey data indicated that Icelanders spent less money on unhealthy (and costly) purchases, from indoor tanning sessions to cigarettes and candy. (Though the reverse may be true, as well: Those Icelanders spent less on healthy but pricey goods like fruits and vegetables.)

So if it still seems counterintuitive to view recessions as a good thing, the research does back up some relevant detrimental effects. Depression has been shown to rise with unemployment levels—especially for sectors of the population stricken by poverty before the recession hit. And, as even Ruhm acknowledges, downturns can have a negative impact on individuals and their families, though health may improve population-wide.

Ultimately, being laid off could potentially make you healthier by giving you more time to sleep, exercise, and socialize. But you might want to consider a more direct way to get those benefits. (Maybe those New Year’s resolutions aren’t such a bad idea after all.)

Articles

Even though marathon running is on the decline, half a million people signed up to participate in the 2020 London Marathon. It seems wild that someone would voluntarily sign up to run 26.2 miles, but those half a million people might actually be on to something. A new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that running a marathon can help reverse signs of aging.

Researchers at Barts and University College London looked at 138 first-time marathon runners between the ages of 21 and 69. "We wanted to look at novice athletes. We didn't include people who said they ran for more than two hours a week," Dr. Charlotte Manisty, the study's senior author and cardiologist at University College London, said per CNN.

Keep Reading
via Stu Hansen / Twitter

In a move that feels like the subject line of a spam email or the premise of a bad '80s movie, online shopping mogul Yusaku Maezawa is giving away money as a social experiment.

Maezawa will give ¥1 million yen ($9,130) to 1,000 followers who retweeted his January 1st post announcing the giveaway. The deadline to retweet was Tuesday, January 7.

Keep Reading
Business
via David Leavitt / Twitter

Anyone who has ever worked in retail knows that the worst thing about the job, right after the pay, are the unreasonable cheapskates who "want to talk to your manager" to get some money off an item.

They think that throwing a tantrum will save them a few bucks and don't care if they completely embarrass themselves in the process. Sometimes that involves belittling the poor employee who's just trying to get through their day with an ounce of dignity.

Twitter is rallying around a gal named Tori who works at a Target in Massachusetts after she was tweet-shamed by irate chapekate, journalist, and Twitter troll, David Leavitt.

Keep Reading
Business