Brain and Body

Basic Physical Activity May Offset Some of the Lethal Risks of Alcohol Consumption

September 9, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

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For alcohol drinkers, even moderate exercise can decrease the risk of dying from cancer and “all-cause mortality,” or deaths from any cause.

Scientists at the University of Sydney have led an international research collaboration to explore how physical activity can reduce some of the harmful effects of alcohol use.

It’s recommended to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, and even at this basic recommended level, the team found that some of alcohol’s harmful effects were offset.

To come to this finding, the researchers analyzed the responses from eight nationally representative health surveys, including 36,370 men and women from the UK aged 40 years and older, between 1994 and 2006, focusing specifically on the impact of physical activity on health-related outcomes of alcohol consumption.

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"Our research suggests that physical activity has substantial health benefits even in the presence of potentially unhealthy behaviours such as drinking alcohol," senior author Emmanuel Stamatakis, from the Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Sydney, said in a press release.

The study results, which appear in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, show that physical activity may decrease the risks of dying from cancer and from “all-cause mortality,” which the researchers define as deaths from any cause.

Even among the survey respondents with relatively low levels of drinking, if they were physically inactive, the risk for cancer and all-cause mortality was higher. The team also saw a dose-response relationship between alcohol consumption and cancer deaths, meaning that the risk of cancer deaths increased as alcohol use increased.

To quantify the risk, the researchers found that moderate drinkers had a 38 higher percent chance of dying from cancer, while hazardous and harmful drinkers had 40 percent and 75 percent higher risks respectively.

However, this wasn’t the case among those who incorporated regular physical activity into their lives.

"We cannot suggest that doing some exercise is a licence to drink more alcohol, as alcohol abuse causes significant health and societal damage,” says Dr. Stamatakis.

“But given that so many people do drink alcohol, our study gives yet another compelling reason to encourage and empower people to be physically active and ask policy makers to invest in physical activity-friendly environments.”

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