Adults who drink alcohol could offset some of the health risks associated with it by exercising for a minimum of two-and-a-half hours per week, a study has suggested.
Drinking booze has been associated with heart disease, stroke and several types of cancer, heightening the risk of death.
As such, new guidelines issued earlier this year advise both men and women to consume no more than 14 units of alcohol per week.
Scientists have now discovered that regular exercise may help cancel out some of the risks associated with moderate drinking.
They wrote in the British Journal of Sports Medicine: “Our results provide an additional argument for the role of [physical activity] as a means to promote the health of the population even in the presence of other less healthy behaviours.”
Previous research has suggested that alcohol consumption and physical activity share common biological disease pathways, but acting in opposite directions.
As such, researchers from the University of Sydney and University College London wanted to find out whether exercise can reduce the risk of death and illness associated with drinking.
They studied a number of health surveys carried out between 1994 and 2006, where people aged 40 and over were asked to answer a number of questions, including the frequency and type of alcohol they drank, as well as how much exercise they did a week.
Physical activity was defined as “walking for any purpose” plus “formal exercise and sport”.
There were 5,735 deaths among the 36,370 respondents surveyed and, after taking account of potentially influential factors, a direct association emerged between drinking alcohol and death.
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The higher the tally of weekly units, the greater the risk of death from cancer, even if total alcohol intake fell within the weekly recommended maximum.
Occasional drinking, on the other hand, was associated with a slightly lower risk of death from all causes and from cardiovascular disease, but not from cancer.
Some 14.6% (5,307) of the respondents were lifelong abstainers and former drinkers, while 4,845 (13.3%) exceeded the then recommended weekly maximum of 14 units for women and 21 for men.
Of those surveyed, around one in four (27.5%) did no physical activity at all. Meanwhile 61% did less than 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week.
The study found that a person’s risk of death varied according to the amount of exercise undertaken – with 150 minutes of exercise per week being the bare minimum.
People who drank ‘hazardous’ amounts – over 35 units per week for women and 49 for men – did not experience the same benefits of exercise.
Researchers said no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect. But the findings clearly indicate that regular physical activity has the potential to promote health and curb some of the harmful effects of drinking.
They added: “The public health relevance of our results is further emphasised by the recently updated alcohol consumption guidelines review by the UK Chief Medical Officer that found that cancer mortality risk starts from a relatively low level of alcohol consumption.”