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Exercise can offset the risks associated with drinking alcohol

Keeping to the weekly recommended level of physical activity may offset some of the lethal effects of high alcohol intake, suggest a team of international researchers. 
Exercise can offset risks from alcohol

Keeping to the weekly recommended level of physical activity may offset some of the lethal effects of high alcohol intake, suggest a team of international researchers.

In the first study of its kind, researchers looked at English and Scottish health surveys from 1994 to 2006, involving 36,370 men and women aged 40 and over. The surveys included questions about frequency and type of alcohol intake and physical activity levels.

Alcohol intake was broken down into: occasional, within government guidelines (14 units for both men and women), hazardous (up to 35 units for women, 49 for men), and harmful (over that).

Measuring exercise

Physical activity defined as walking for any purpose and formal exercise/sport undertaken in the previous four weeks was measured in Metabolic

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Keeping to the weekly recommended level of physical activity may offset some of the lethal effects of high alcohol intake, suggest a team of international researchers. 

Exercise can offset risks from alcohol
The research measured frequency and type of alcohol intake and physical activity levels. Photo: IStock

In the first study of its kind, researchers looked at English and Scottish health surveys from 1994 to 2006, involving 36,370 men and women aged 40 and over. The surveys included questions about frequency and type of alcohol intake and physical activity levels.

Alcohol intake was broken down into: occasional, within government guidelines (14 units for both men and women), hazardous (up to 35 units for women, 49 for men), and harmful (over that).

Measuring exercise 

Physical activity – defined as walking for any purpose and formal exercise/sport undertaken in the previous four weeks – was measured in Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET) minutes.

More than one in four (27.5%) respondents said they did no physical activity, while 61% did less than 7.5 MET/hour a week – the equivalent of 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity. 

Nearly four in 10 (39%) met the lower recommended weekly target of more than 7.5 MET minutes per hour, and 23.3% met the higher exercise target of more than 15 MET minutes an hour. 

Heightened risk 

Compared with lifelong abstinence, drinking in the past and at hazardous levels was associated with a heightened risk of death from all causes.

When physical activity was factored in, risk of death varied according to the amount undertaken. For those who failed to meet the minimum exercise guidelines, a heightened risk of death from cancer was dependent on the doseage of alcohol, from within recommended limits up to harmful levels.

The researchers said the risk was lessened or cancelled out for those who exercised.


Perreault K et al (2016) Does physical activity moderate the association between alcohol drinking and all-cause, cancer and cardiovascular diseases mortality? A pooled analysis of eight British population cohorts. British Journal of Sports Medicine. doi 10.1136/bjsports-2016-096194

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