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Exercise may counteract some dangers of alcohol

By Faeza
09 September 2016

Here’s some good news for those equally at home on a treadmill or at a bar – regular exercise may cancel out some of the risk of death that is linked to alcohol.

Although health guidelines state that both men and women should stop drinking at 14 units a week, the equivalent of seven medium glasses of wine or pints of beer, a new study suggests that exercising diminishes the impact of alcohol even at higher than recommended levels.

In a study by University College London and the University of Sydney, it was found that drinking - even within guidelines - raises the risk of early death by at least 16 per cent and cancer by 47 per cent.

However, 150 minutes a week of moderate activity completely cancelled out the impact of death from all causes while lowering the cancer risk by 36 per cent. Such exercise also cut the chance of dying from hazardous drinking by more than half.

The study authors believe that drinking alcohol and exercising share a similar metabolic pathway in the body but operate in opposing ways. While the alcohol forces the liver to abandon its function of getting rid of fatty acids, exercise does the reverse, using up fat as fuel.

"Our research suggests that physical activity has substantial health benefits even in the presence of potentially unhealthy behaviours such as drinking alcohol," said senior author Associate Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis.

The study looked at six health surveys involving 36,370 people in England and Scotland carried out between 1994 and 1998 which included questions about drinking and activity levels among those aged over 40. During the study period nearly 6,000 people died.

While the researchers make it clear that they aren’t suggesting doing some exercise is a licence to drink more alcohol, they indicate that the affects can be negated through a balanced lifestyle.

“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," said Dr Stamatakis.

These findings follow a recent review study found that alcohol can cause cancer of the oropharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, rectum and breast. These alcohol-attributable cancers at these sites make up 5.8 per cent of all cancer deaths world-wide.

The research was publishing in the British Journal of Sports Science.

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