I began researching the correlation between alcohol and exercise a few years ago when I noticed I would experience the same adrenaline rush from running as I would from taking a shot. Before you freak out and question my well-being, this isn’t a rarity among fit folks. In fact, research has found that people who exercise frequently tend to also frequent bars more.
The research began in 1990 when scientists first discovered the alcohol-exercise connection, but they assumed, that at some point the tables would turn—the biggest drinkers would exercise less. Unfortunately, they were wrong.
In 2009, the University of Miami found that the more people exercise, the more they drink. Active women, in particular, consumed the highest amounts of alcohol. Interesting, right? I thought so, too. As a society, we tend to perceive heavy drinkers as people who don’t function well without having a drink in hand. This is a huge misconception; one that now has been studied multiple times over the past 15 years.
The University of Miami’s study analyzed more than 230,000 men and women. The findings suggested that drinkers of all ages (not just the crazy college kids) and sexes were ten percent more likely to exercise vigorously. Heavy drinkers exercised ten minutes more each week than the moderate drinkers and 20 minutes more than the non-drinkers.
Another study by Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health found that women — particularly active — educated women, are drinking more than ever recorded in history. But that isn’t to say it’s all bad: With more women taking higher paying and male-dominated jobs, it has become socially acceptable for women to tag-along with their male coworkers to the bar. Is it 4 PM, yet?
Not Exactly a Free-Pass, However
The more a person drinks the more swelling in the brain that occurs, which in turn kills off brain cells. Over-time this can lead to bad stuff, but for the frequent exerciser sweat sessions increase neurotrophin production so a person can create new brain cells.
Unfortunately, that is about the only good thing that comes out of the alcohol-exercise connection because being fit does not mean you are impervious to liver disease, diabetes, other cancers…or acquiring a problematic habit such as alcohol dependency.
The same university that studied active, educated women also found that more women are becoming alcoholics because it is so easy for women to overdo it. Women have more body fat and less water so they do not absorb alcohol as well as men do. Women also have a smaller amount of the enzyme responsible for breaking down alcohol. The fluctuating hormones of a woman make matters even worse because estrogen affects alcohol metabolism. (This is why one glass of wine one night may give us a slight buzz, but a few weeks later might get us smashed). #LadyProblems
Women are also more likely to have alcohol related-illnesses such as liver disorders, heart damage, and breast cancer. Tavis Piattoly, R.D, a sports dietitian for Tulane University, said, “Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to all of these no matter how much you exercise.”
Enough With the Gloom And Doom
Now that I’ve got you all wound up and planning your funeral, let’s talk moderation. Nobody is saying you have to ditch your habits completely. Moderate alcohol consumption is linked to a longer life. Piattoly tells his clients to limit themselves and have a plan. “For women, I’d say don’t have more than three – and in between every drink, have water.”
He also said if you are planning on a big weekend of drinking take a few days off and let your body rest. It is okay to overboard occasionally, but the body needs time to heal.
As the weekend begins and the NDSU football team plays its home opener of the season, remember that — for health reasons — moderation will always win. Enjoy the weekend of drinking and food, but come Monday morning, let your body rejuvenate. As for me, I will be hitting the gym prior to a long day of tailgating with my fellow Bison fans.