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Why Do Alcohol Drinkers Exercise More?

Studies suggest there might actually be a positive correlation between alcohol consumption and time spent exercising. But does this mean drinkers are natural gym rats, or is there more to the story?
Why Do Alcohol Drinkers Exercise More?
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Drop and give me 151! Though it may seem odd, the last people at the bar might be the first to hit the barbells. Studies suggest there might actually be a positive correlation between alcohol consumption and time spent exercising [1] [2]. But though some surveys indicate drinkers spend as much as 10 percent longer engaged in activity than those who abstain, the correlation likely results from factors beyond what’s in the bottle [1].

Sweat It Out — Why It Matters

Photo by Marissa Angell

Despite extensive evidence that alcohol consumption does not typically enhance physical performance or post-workout results— and could even act as a hindrance— many exercisers are frequent drinkers [4]. While there’s no single explanation for the correlation, multiple factors might help explain the connection. For one, alcohol consumers might be motivated to exercise more regularly in order to offset excess calorie intake (and stave off the dreaded beer belly) [2].

Another potential explanation is the notion of preference for “sensation-seeking” activities— that is, ones that produce noticeable physical sensations— like drinking and exercise [1]. To a “sensation-seeker,” both the “runner’s high” endorphin response and the “buzz” ethanol response might be desirable and potentially similar sensations.

99 Bottles of Sheer Motivation? — The Answer/Debate

Pass it around. While there is a positive correlation between drinking levels and time spent exercising, that doesn’t mean one causes the other. Abstainers who order a round of shots in hopes of improving workouts might be left feeling bitter— lime or no lime. And while it seems that the best option would be to exercise regularly and drink only lightly, this might not be optimal for someone who derives happiness from social activities such as drinking (and could end up exercising more regularly when they’re happy). The same goes for those who like their daily glass of red wine.

So, drinkers might work out a little more, but who’s the “best off?” There’s no single answer. Alcohol before, during, or after exercise can be harmful and might diminish accomplishments in weight management and cardiovascular endurance [7] [8]. Of course, abstaining means avoiding all of the risks (and possible benefits) associated with alcohol intake, and post-workout recovery can be significantly reduced by excessive drinking. (Though one or two brewskies should be A-OK).

Works Cited +

  1. Do Alcohol Consumers Exercise More? Findings from a National Survey. French, M., Popovici, I., Maclean, J. University of Miami, Miami, FL, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. American Journal of Health Promotion, 2009 Sep–Oct; 24(1): 2–10.
  2. Alcohol consumption and health-promoting behavior in a U.S. household sample: leisure-time physical activity. Smothers, B., Bertolucci, D. Epidemiology Branch, Division of Biometry and Epidemiology, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892-7003, USA. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 2001 Jul;62(4):467-76.
  3. Do Alcohol Consumers Exercise More? Findings from a National Survey. French, M., Popovici, I., Maclean, J. University of Miami, Miami, FL, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. American Journal of Health Promotion, 2009 Sep–Oct; 24(1): 2–10.
  4. The effects of chronic alcohol consumption and exercise on the skeleton of adult male rats. Reed, A.H., McCarty, H.L., Evans, G.L., et al. AMC Cancer Research Center, 1600 Pierce Street, Denver, CO 80214, USA. Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research, 2002 Aug;26(8):1269-74.
  5. Alcohol consumption and health-promoting behavior in a U.S. household sample: leisure-time physical activity. Smothers, B., Bertolucci, D. Epidemiology Branch, Division of Biometry and Epidemiology, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892-7003, USA. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 2001 Jul;62(4):467-76.
  6. Do Alcohol Consumers Exercise More? Findings from a National Survey. French, M., Popovici, I., Maclean, J. University of Miami, Miami, FL, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. American Journal of Health Promotion, 2009 Sep–Oct; 24(1): 2–10.
  7. Interaction between alcohol and exercise: physiological and haematological implications. El-Sayed, M.S., Ali, N., El-Sayed, Ali. Faculty of Science, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK. Sports Medicine, 2005;35(3):257-69.
  8. Effect of alcohol on exercise-induced changes in serum glucose and serum free fatty acids. Heikkonen, E., Ylikahri, R., Roine, R., et al. Research Unit of Alcohol Diseases, University of Helsinki, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Finland. Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research, 1998 Apr;22(2):437-43.

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