You want to live a healthy long life, so you try to eat right, get enough sleep and exercise on a regular basis. Well now you should add another thing to your health regimen... sipping a few cocktails at the local watering hole.
Yup, weird but true. It is well documented that tossing a few drinks back in a week (one a day for women, two for men) has great heart benefits. But researchers in Denmark decided to look further. Could drinking alcohol have a benefit similar to that of exercise? You gotta love those Denmarkians!
Dr. Morten Gronbaek, epidemiologist with Denmark's National Institute of Public Health asks, "If you don't want to exercise too much, can you trade it for one to two drinks per day and be fine?" Gronbaek and his colleagues just published a study in the European Heart Journal that suggests the answer might be yes. Not surprisingly, cheers have been heard across the land.
There are a variety of reasons that having a drink can be good, and not just because it's an ice-breaker for members of the opposite sex... In terms of the body, alcohol and exercise affect your heart health in similar ways. Dr. Arthur Klatsky, a cardiologist and researcher at Kaiser Permanente Northern California says: "They help increase good cholesterol, or HDL [high-density lipoproteins], and clean the circulatory system's pipes. HDL helps remove fatty deposits, created by bad cholesterol, or LDL [low-density lipoproteins], from blood-vessel walls. The higher the HDL, the less likely vascular disease becomes. The lower the HDL, the more likely."
12,000 people were involved in Gronbaek's study over a 20-year period. Exercise and consumption of alcohol each had an independent beneficial effect on the heart. But even better: they had compound effect when practiced together.
The researchers separated the individuals in the study into four distinct categories:
1. People who didn't drink period. And didn't exercise at all. They had the highest risk of heart disease. No big surprise there.
2. People who didn't drink at all, but exercised on a regular basis. They had a 30% decreased risk of heart disease. Well, that makes sense.
3. People who drank moderately, but were real couch potatoes... didn't exercise at all. They also had a 30% decreased risk. That IS a surprise.
4. But here's the amazing thing: People who drank moderately but ALSO exercised on a regular basis had a 50% lower risk. Wow!
"There's an additional protective effect to doing both," says Gronbaek. "That's the new finding."
This adds to the growing body of evidence that moderate consumption of alcohol is becoming a healthy choice, which flies in the face of all those teetotalers out there. in fact, there is new evidence that alcohol in combination with caffeine can limit the damage to your brain after a stroke. (note that it doesn't do anything to prevent the stroke in the first place though.) Lowering your risk of diabetes, improving insulin sensitivity in postmenopausal women and decreasing dementia rates in older adults has also been linked to consuming one to six drinks per week.
Although this is simply wonderful news for all of America's bartenders, alcohol may do you no coronary good until you reach the age of heart disease risk... generally considered to be around 45 or 50. Younger women who have a higher risk of breast cancer and anyone who has a family history of alcoholism should skip the drinks... for obvious reasons.