Exercise and Alcohol
By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD
Most of us know that being more active can help improve our health, particularly reducing the risk of heart disease. Plus, many of us are familiar with the idea that enjoying a small amount of alcohol every day may help keep our heart healthy. But new research reveals that to get the best impact on our health, we should combine the two – though not necessarily at the same time!
Research published in the European Heart Journal looked at the combined effects of physical activity and alcohol intakes on the risk of dying from fatal heart disease and also from all causes. The study analysed the results from almost 12,000 Danish adults who had been followed since the early 1980’s as part of the Copenhagen City Heart Study.
The scientists discovered that the risk of death from both heart disease and all other causes was much lower in those adults who were physically active AND drank small amounts of alcohol each week compared to teetotal exercisers or inactive drinkers. Worst off, were those adults who didn’t drink or exercise – they had a 50 percent greater risk of suffering with fatal heart disease than those adults who drank 1-14 drinks a week and were physically active!
While this research might suggest that celebrating your workout with a pint or a gin and tonic is actually good for you, moderation remains the key word when it comes to consuming alcohol.
This research revealed that heavy drinkers – defined as having more than 15 drinks in a week – had an increased risk of dying from all causes compared with moderate drinkers, even if they exercised regularly, so it’s important to limit the amount you drink.
For good health, it’s widely accepted by health experts in the UK that women should have no more than 2-3 units of alcohol a day, and men no more than 3-4 units daily. The British Heart Foundation still maintain that the heart health benefits of drinking 1-2 units of alcohol a day are only really seen in men over the age of 40 years and postmenopausal women.
Whilst this study links exercise and alcohol, it doesn’t recommend doing the two together!
If you’ve had a drink, it’s best to avoid exercising, as alcohol will affect your performance, concentration and level of hydration so that you’re more likely to injure yourself. Similarly, it’s not a good idea to quench your thirst by downing several pints of lager after playing football or rugby, or tucking into a bottle of wine bar immediately after a gym workout. Chances are, exercise will have left you a little dehydrated (especially if you didn’t increase your fluid intake before and during your workout). As a result, it’s important to rehydrate with water – and not alcohol, which actually has a dehydrating effect. Furthermore, if you’re trying to lose weight, it makes no sense replacing all the calories you’ve just burned up during exercise with booze.
Our advice is simple. Aim for five sessions of moderate intensity activity each week, with each session lasting at least 30 minutes, more if you can manage it. Good examples include fast walking, swimming or cycling.
If you do like a tipple, have no more than the recommended number of units and remember to count the calories!
You can use the exercise diary, database and tools in WLR to create and follow an exercise plan, and find out how many calories you burn. Start a 24 hour Free Trial.
For further information on the number of units in different drinks, use the unit calculator at
www.bhf.org.uk – British Heart Foundation