Science Says Exercise Might Make People Drink More Alcohol

Written by Emi Boscamp

Beer and exercise go hand in hand. No, we don't hydrate on the treadmill with a cold one, but we might celebrate a big physical feat with a pint or two. We earned it.

It's been a debate in the science world for some time now whether exercise encourages people to drink and, conversely, whether drinking encourages people to exercise.

Now, two new studies suggest that exercise may well influence when and how much people drink, reports The New York Times. The findings suggest that drinking may even affect whether or not people exercise at all — and that this relationship could actually be a good thing.

Past epidemiological studies have shown that people who exercise tend also to be people who drink, and vice versa, but they had major limitations. So, to better understand the relationship between drinking and sweating, researchers at Pennsylvania State University recruited a representative group of 150 adult men and women age 18 to 75 who were already participating in an ongoing, long-term health study at the university.

They had the volunteers fill out extensive questionnaires about their lifestyles, and then gave each of them a smartphone app that could record their daily drinking and exercise activities and then automatically send the reports to the scientists. Throughout the year, each participant used the app for 21 consecutive days three times.

After analyzing the data, the scientists found, for the first time, an unequivocal correlation between exercising on any given day (not just Fridays, for example) and subsequently drinking — especially if someone exercised more than usual. Age and gender did not affect the results.

Thankfully, the data did not show that exercise only very rarely caused or worsened problem drinking — which they define as five drinks in succession for a man and four for a woman.

This kind of study, however, cannot determine why drinking and exercising are associated. But a newly published review of past, related experiments (particularly those involving animals), published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, might be able to.

The authors explain that both exercise and alcohol have been shown to increase activity in parts of the brain related to reward processing in lab rodents. The animal's brains did not respond identically to both activities, though, which explains why animals will avidly engage in both running and drinking more commonly than just one or the other. Why have one high when you could have two?

So, it's possible that something similar when humans work out and imbibe, but it's not yet proven, as our behavior is much more complicated than that of rodents.

Feeling a slight buzz after a workout, J. Leigh Leasure, lead author of the new review, told the Times, we may unconsciously try to lengthen and intensify that feeling with a beer, a glass of wine, or a cocktail.

But while these findings suggest that exercise may encourage people to drink, they don't indicate that the vast majority of us should be concerned by the relationship, said Dr. Leasure. But, of course, it's always good to be aware of the ways in which we reward ourselves — especially when it comes to booze.

(h/t NYT)

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