People who neither drink nor exercise have a 30 to 49 percent higher risk of heart disease than people who do one or both of the activities, the researchers said in the European Heart Journal.
"The main finding is there seems to be an additional beneficial effect of drinking one to two drinks per day and doing at least moderate physical activity," said Morten Gronbaek of the University of Southern Denmark, who led the study.
Several major studies have found that light-to-moderate drinking - up to two drinks a day on a regular basis - is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, and some have also found this leads to a lower risk of some cancers.
How the study was done
But the Danish study, one of the largest of its kind to examine the combined effect of drinking and exercise, found there were additional protective effects gained from doing both.
The researchers collected information on the drinking and exercise habits of nearly 12 000 men and women aged 20 years or older between 1981 and 1983.
Over the next 20 years, some 1 200 of the participants died from heart disease and about 5 900 died from other causes.
Non-drinkers had a 30 percent to 31 percent higher risk of heart disease compared to moderate drinkers, no matter the amount of physical activity they undertook. Moderate consumption was defined as between one to 14 drinks per week.
But teetotallers who exercised at least moderately were able to reduce their risk of heart disease, an important finding for people who abstain because of religious beliefs or health issues, the researchers said.
People who had the lowest risk of dying from any cause were physically active, moderate drinkers while those at highest risk were the physically inactive, heavy drinkers, the study found. – (ReutersHealth)