Exercise May Offset the Health Risks Linked to Drinking Alcohol

Another reason to get off the couch.

Like to kick back with a glass of wine or beer after a long day at work? Most of us do, despite research that suggests drinking alcohol can increase our risk of developing serious health problems, such as heart disease and cancer, later on in life. But according to a September 2016 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine exercise might be able to offset the scary side effects of booze.

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Researchers at the University of Sydney analyzed data from eight British health surveys, totaling more than 36,370 men and women over 40. They measured self-reported drinking habits and physical activity, and the cause of death if the participant died over the course of the survey.

Compared to lifelong teetotaling, people who drank at "hazardous" levels (8 to 20 standard drinks a week for women and 21 to 49 for men, according to CNN) had a higher risk of death from all causes. And the more people drank, the higher their risk of death from cancer, even if they drank less than the recommended weekly maximum of 8 drinks for women and 12 for men. Fascinatingly, people who only drank occasionally had a lower risk of death from all causes except cancer.

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But all that changed once the researchers factored in exercise: Participants who met or exceeded the recommended amount of exercise, 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week, basically canceled out the risk of dying from cancer that was associated with the alcohol they drank. And active people had a slightly lower risk of death from all causes unless they drank at "hazardous" levels.

Of course, this study was just observational and not done in a lab, so it's impossible to determine cause and effect. The researchers also didn't factor in things like diet, which could have affected the results. Plus, alcohol can be related to other factors that damper quality of life, such as domestic abuse, mental illness, and liver disease, Time notes. But the researchers say their results give yet another solid reason to get frequent exercise, especially if you're a drinker.

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