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Study: Drinkers Appear to Get More Exercise Than Non-Drinkers, but Longer Workouts Don't Outweigh Health Woes of Heavy Drinking

Sept. 1, 2009 -- People who drink alcoholic beverages on a regular basis may be more likely than teetotalers to exercise -- and the more they drink, the more likely they are to work out, a new study shows.

“A possible motivation is that people who consume alcohol recognize that it contains a fair number of calories, so they exercise to counteract caloric intake,” study author Michael T. French, PhD, of the University of Miami, tells WebMD. “Those who drink without misusing it may be interested in balancing their life.”

French and fellow researchers analyzed data from the 2005 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a yearly phone survey of 230,000 Americans, and found a “strong statistical association” between alcohol use and moderate to vigorous exercise.

The study, published in the September-October issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion, reports that:

  • Compared with abstainers, light drinkers exercised 5.7 more minutes per week, moderate drinkers 10.1 more minutes, and heavy drinkers 19.9 more minutes.
  • Women drinking alcohol exercised 7.2 more minutes per week than abstainers, and men 5.5 more minutes.
  • Drinking for both men and women was associated with about a 10% increase in the probability of engaging in vigorous exercise.

Abstainers were people who had not drunk alcohol in the 30 days prior to being surveyed. Drinkers were classified as light, moderate, or heavy drinkers based on the number of alcoholic drinks they had had in the last 30 days:

Light drinkers

  • Women: 1-14 drinks
  • Men: 1-29 drinks

Moderate drinkers

  • Women: 15-45 drinks
  • Men: 30-75 drinks

Heavy drinkers

  • Women: 46 or more drinks
  • Men: 76 or more drinks

“The message here is not to use alcohol to improve your exercise” regimen, French says, adding that health problems associated with heavy drinking outweigh benefits of more exercise. However, he says the study suggests that “responsible” drinking may be beneficial.

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