Do Drinkers Exercise More Than Their Sober Peers?

While some runners load up on carbohydrates before a race to boost their endurance, members of the Boston Hash League, a self-defined "drinking club with a running problem," swap that pre-race bowl of pasta for a mid-race six-pack.

"The group runs once a week and on full moon nights at various locations in and around Boston, [stopping] once or twice for a 'beer check,'" says member Keith Fine, of Quincy, Mass. He adds that at the end of the run, the entire group meets at a bar or restaurant to continue the drinking in earnest.

Since its creation in 1938, the philosophy of this band of merry runners is to "promote physical fitness," "get rid of weekend hangovers" and "acquire a thirst and satisfy it in beer," according to their Web site, Bostonhash.com.

"I Googled running clubs when I moved back to Boston after grad school in Florida," Fine said. "I ran with a few different ones, but the Hash was the most fun."

This marriage of drink and exercise may sound bizarre, and pairing the two activities so closely is not advisable and certainly not the norm for most exercisers.

However, new research suggests that more moderate drinking and regular exercise may go hand in hand more often than we think.

An Odd Cocktail -- Drinking and Exercise

Past research shows that certain unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking and physical inactivity, often go together. But new research out of the University of Miami suggests alcohol consumption may be linked with at least one healthy behavior: physical activity. Specifically, researchers found that those who reported drinking more alcohol were also more likely to report exercising more.

Lead author Michael French, a professor of sociology, economics, epidemiology and public health, and colleagues, analyzed survey data on exercise and alcohol use from over 200,000 Americans. What they found was that not only were abstainers less likely to exercise, but light drinkers tended to exercise less than moderate or heavy drinkers.

Drinking Tied to Exercise, Researchers Say

Women who reported drinking more than 45 drinks in the past month -- a behavior that pushed them into the category of "heavy drinkers" -- exercised 14 more minutes per week on average than those light drinkers who drank one to 14 drinks in the month. These heavy drinkers also reported exercising on average 20 minutes more than those who abstained from alcohol altogether.

What's more, drinkers were 10 percent more likely than their sober peers to exercise vigorously in any given week.

The results were similar for men, with heavy drinkers -- those who threw back 75 drinks per month -- exercising 21 minutes more per week than light drinkers (who only consumed one to 29 drinks per month) and 23 minutes more than abstainers.

Dr. David Baron, chief of staff at the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center, commented that "we normally would associate a 'healthier lifestyle' with both exercise and moderation in alcohol consumption.

"[The results are] not what people would have expected," he said.

So, are barflies necessarily gym rats?

"Not really," French said. "Drinking by itself is not going to lead to more exercise."

He added that the researchers "tried to be upfront and cautious" in reporting the findings because, while they suggest a strong association between alcohol and exercise, they cannot explain why these oddly paired behaviors seem to go together.

Baron agreed. "The link, whatever it is, remains somewhat of a mystery."

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