Even Moderate Physical Exercise May Offset Harmful Effects of Alcohol

Moderate Physical Exercise May Offset Harmful Effects of Alcohol

A bit of research out of Sydney, Australia, is suggesting that even the basic recommended levels of physical exercise—just 150 minutes per week—can offset some of the lethal and harmful effects of drinking alcohol. The findings expand on the importance of staying physically active in order to counter the influence of unhealthy behaviors like drinking.

The Findings

The findings are based on a series of surveys that were carried out in the UK between 1994 and 2006. These surveys show that drinking is linked to cancer deaths and all-cause mortality (death for any reason), and it only grew the more people drank. For example, when they compared someone who had never had a drink to someone who drank within the UK’s 2015 recommended levels, the drinker had a 36% greater risk of death from cancer and a 13% greater risk of death from any cause.

This risk, however, was substantially lessened to the point of near-elimination among those who were physically active. When the researchers looked at people who followed the recommended levels of physical exercise, they found that only harmful—over 39 standard Australian drinks for men each week, or 28 standard drinks for women—levels of drinking increased the risk of death.

Since the study was based on surveys, there is the issue of self-reporting bias that comes with any similar piece of research. There is also the fact that the surveys measured drinks in UK units, and the Sydney researchers had to translate to Australian units, which raises the admittedly minor possibility of some math errors. The surveys were also only given to those aged 40 and over, so it is unclear whether the effects of exercise might be greater, smaller, or the same, among younger age groups.

For hopefully obvious reasons, the findings should not be taken to mean that people can drink more alcohol as long as they exercise. Alcohol can still cause health and social problems even if you remain physically active, after all. What the findings do suggest is that those who do drink have a vested interest in staying active.


“Physical activity may offset some of alcohol’s lethal harms,” EurekAlert web site, September 7, 2016; http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-09/uos-pam090716.php, last accessed September 8, 2016.

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