Getting enough exercise can offset the harmful effects of drinking too much alcohol, according to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
The researchers, from the University of Sydney, analysed data from nationally representative health surveys carried out in England and Scotland between 1994 and 2006.
They found that, after taking into account external factors, there is a direct association between drinking larger amounts of alcohol and death from all causes and from cancer.
Respondents with the highest alcohol intake had the greatest risk of death from cancer. ‘Occasional drinkers’ were found to have a slightly lower risk of death from all causes, but not from cancer.
The researchers found that the risk was reduced — or even eliminated — among those who are physically active, which they define as requiring at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity every week.
The study’s authors wrote: ‘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.
‘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.’
Unfortunately the nature of this study makes it difficult to draw firm conclusions, although it does provide food for thought.
First, it is an observational study, which means it relies on people accurately answering questions about how much they drink and exercise for a survey. This has obvious pitfalls.
Second, it stands to reason that people who are doing regular exercise may also have other lifestyle factors that could be affecting their health positively, such as healthier diets.
Conversely, those who are less active may be so due to other health issues. To this end it is interesting that the benefit was suggested for all-cause and cancer mortality, but not cardiovascular disease mortality, and also that the benefits were not demonstrated in those who drank to excess. Furthermore, the outcome being discussed here is death, which doesn’t take into account the many other ways in which alcohol can cause harm that are not necessarily fatal.
Research score: 2/5