Study Finds Connection Between Exercise and Alcohol

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Most of us tend to assume that people who exercise regularly are more likely to be healthy in other aspects of life. After all, good health comes from a variety of factors, and no amount of exercise is going to completely make up for self-destructive or slovenly habits in other areas of health. But according to a pair of new studies, this is not necessarily the case.

Surprising findings

A recent study released out of the University of Miami offers a surprising counterpoint to the idea that healthy people are usually healthy in all aspects of life. Going off of data provided by the 2005 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, the study found that there is a very strong correlation between exercise and alcohol intake. Specifically, among both men and women, people who drink alcohol exercise on average 7.2 minutes more every week than people who don’t drink.

7.2 minutes may not seem like a huge amount, but keep in mind that this is just an average. Furthermore, the numbers become even stranger and more stark when we look at the amount that people drink. The study found that heavy drinkers work out 19.9 minutes more per week, moderate drinkers 10.1 minutes more, and light drinkers 5.7 minutes more. Drinking in itself, no matter what the level of activity, correlates with a 10 percent greater likelihood that one will exercise at all. In other words, a greater percentage of non-drinkers don’t get regular physical activity.

Of course, there’s nothing in the study to indicate that these people drank while exercising, and this correlation should not be taken as a sign that drinking is healthy. While light drinking can have health benefits, there is no disputing the fact that heavier drinking is bad for the body and mind and should be avoided.

Still, this counterintuitive correlation presents an interesting puzzle. We tend to think that unhealthy behaviors go along with one another, and that good health is usually an all-or-nothing endeavor. But in a strange way, it could be that healthy and unhealthy behaviors sometimes feed off of each other.

For example, people who engage in unhealthy behaviors such as heavy drink may, when not drunk, try to mask their poor health by overcompensating with healthy activities. In other words, after a night of heavy drinking, you might find it makes you feel better to get some exercise. Not only will it give you a better sense of well-being, but it will also help prevent the negative physical effects of heavy drinking.

Meanwhile, it could be that drinkers who exercise are just trying to work off all those extra calories they take in through beer, wine, or spirits. After all, beer can contain 150 calories or more per serving, which really adds up over a night of even moderate drinking. The individuals in this study may simply be trying to keep those extra calories from showing in the waistline.

Moderate drinking good for you?

A separate study performed in Denmark came up with an interesting set of findings that makes this discussion even more complex. The group at the National Institute of Public Health looked at 12,000 individuals over a 20-year span to find out how alcohol intake and exercise affected their cardiovascular system. The study divided its subjects into four groups: people who neither drink nor exercise; people who do both in moderation; people who just drink; and people who just exercise.

We might expect that the drinking non-exercisers would have the highest rates of heart disease, but the study came to an interesting conclusion. In fact, heart disease occurred most frequently among the group that neither drank nor exercised. People who only drank or only exercised had a 30 percent lower risk of heart disease, while those who both drank and exercised (in moderation) had a 50 percent lower risk.

It must be noted that this Danish study looked only at very specific cardiovascular conditions, and it hasn’t been established whether or not moderate drinking has beneficial effects across the board when it comes to heart conditions and illnesses. It could be that moderate drinking has benefits for the specific illnesses that the Danish researchers were looking at, and that it’s mostly negative in other ways. More study needs to be done to determine exactly how moderate drinking affects the body.

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