Regular exercise could counteract the harmful effects of alcohol

A new study suggests that keeping fit reduces mortality rates in drinkers.

9th September 2016
Regular exercise could counteract the harmful effects of alcohol (iStock)

Are you prone to having the occasional tipple? If so you might want to get on your bike or go for a brisk walk, as a new study has found that regular exercise can counteract the damaging effects alcohol has on the body.

Published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the study suggests that doing the amount of physical activity recommended by the government, which is at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week such as cycling or brisk walking, could offset some of the risks of drinking alcohol.

The research evaluates the responses of eight nationally representative health surveys from the UK from 1994 to 2006. The international team of researchers compared data on alcohol intake and physical activity in over 40 year olds.

They found that drinkers, even those remaining within the recommended government limits (14 units per week for women, 21 for men) have a 36 per cent higher risk of death from cancer and 13 per cent higher risk from other causes than non-drinkers. And the more participants drink, the higher the risk becomes, even after taking other factors into account.

However, the research “suggests that physical activity has substantial health benefits even in the presence of potentially unhealthy behaviours such as drinking alcohol," according to author of the paper Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis. "Among physically inactive people, we saw that the risk for cancer and all-cause mortality was higher even at relatively low levels of drinking.” They also found a close relationship between drinking alcohol and cancer deaths. “The risk of cancer deaths increased as alcohol consumption increased. But this was not the case among physically active people."

Surprisingly, occasional drinking (less than once a week) was associated with a slightly lower risk of death from causes other than cancer.

The study is purely observational, so no conclusions can be made about the cause of the results. Dietary habits and drinking patterns (binge drinking versus frequent light drinking) also weren’t controlled, and these could have affected the results.

So no matter how much alcohol you had at the party last night, make sure you think about slipping on your trainers and getting some fresh air in the not too distant future.

 


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