Drinkers More Physically Active Than Abstainers

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Drinkers aren’t just bending their elbows: according to a new study, the more alcohol people drink, the more likely they might be to exercise.

“Alcohol users not only exercised more than abstainers, but the differential actually increased with more drinking,” said lead author Michael French, Ph.D. “There is a strong association between all levels of drinking and both moderate and vigorous physical activity. However, these results do not suggest that people should use alcohol to boost their exercise programs, as the study was not designed to determine whether alcohol intake actually caused an increase in exercise.”

French is a professor of health economics at the University of Miami. The study appears in the September/October issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.


French and colleagues analyzed data from the 2005 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a yearly telephone survey of roughly 230,000 Americans. They uncovered a strong statistical association between measures of both alcohol use and moderate to vigorous exercise.

Among women, those currently using alcohol exercised 7.2 minutes more per week than those who abstained. Relative to abstainers, the more alcohol used, the longer the person exercised. Specifically, light, moderate and heavy drinkers exercised 5.7, 10.1 and 19.9 minutes more per week. Overall, drinking was associated with a 10.1 percent increase in the probability of engaging in vigorous physical activity. The results for men were similar.

French said that the health problems associated with heavy drinking may outweigh the benefits of more exercise. “While those who are at risk for problem drinking should minimize or curtail their consumption of alcohol, light to moderate drinking may be health-enhancing for some people. If responsible drinkers are using exercise to partially counteract the caloric intake from alcohol, that is not such as bad thing.”

To Bethany Garrity, director of corporate fitness management at the National Institute for Fitness and Sport in Indianapolis, these results challenge the status quo assumption that healthy people make all the right choices.

“We don’t often associate an unhealthy behavior such as moderate to heavy drinking with healthy behaviors in the same individual,” she said. “Sometimes people tend to forget that we are not all healthy or all unhealthy in how we behave. This is a good reminder that people choose many kinds of health behaviors across the spectrum from healthiest to unhealthy.”