People Who Exercise More, Drink More, Suggests Study

People Who Exercise More, Drink More, Suggests Study

October 01, 2021

People Who Exercise More, Drink More, Suggests Study


It is assumed that people who exercise more would make healthier choices when it comes to eating and drinking. However, many studies over the years have found a link between drinking and exercising, indicating that those who exercise more drink more. However, all these studies were conducted on pro athletes and college teams. A new study, published in the journal Medicine and Science and Sports and Exercise, suggests that though people who exercise more drink more, they are less likely to be problem drinkers.

The cross-sectional study, titled Fit and Tipsy? The Interrelationship between Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Alcohol Consumption and Dependence, observed more than 38000 participants who visited the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas for preventive medical tests. The study observed participants, both males and females, over a period of 31 years ranging from 1988 to 2019. The age of the participants ranged between 20 and 86 with the mean age being 45.9 years. Covariates like body mass index (BMI), age, marital status, and birth year cohort were adjusted for the purpose of this study.

Exercise-drinking habit link is true for healthy people also

The participants were subjected to a treadmill test to measure their fitness levels. Based on their fitness levels, the participants were divided into five groups. These were:

  • Low fitness
  • Moderate fitness (Group 1)
  • Moderate fitness (Group 2)
  • High fitness (Group 1)
  • High fitness (Group 2)

They were also categorized as light, moderate or heavy drinkers based on their drinking patterns. The classification was as below:

  • Light drinker: Three or less drinks per week for both males and females
  • Moderate drinker: Up to seven drinks per week for females and up to 14 drinks per week for males
  • Heavy drinker: Eight or more drinks per week for females and 14 or more drinks per week for males

The researchers analyzed the results and concluded that people with moderate and high fitness levels were more likely to be moderate and heavy drinkers. On the other hand, people with low fitness levels were more likely to be light drinkers. For highly fit females, the likelihood of being moderate and heavy drinkers more than doubled whereas for highly fit men, this likelihood stood at 63 percent. Highly fit people had a VO2 max of 46.9 ml/kg/minute, which indicated a healthy body, but not as healthy or fit as that of pro athlete. VO2 max is the maximum rate of oxygen the body uses while exercising. Female pro athletes have a VO2 max of 77 ml/kg/minute and male pro athletes have a VO2 max of 85 ml/kg/minute.

The scientists knew that VO2 max is usually dictated by genetics, therefore, they conducted a sub-analysis of the participants workout routines (self-reported) and found a similar pattern to co-relate to the findings of the main study.

The Cooper Clinic also administered a questionnaire to the participants to access their level of dependence on alcohol. The questionnaire quizzed the participants on whether they got irritated when somebody criticized their drinking pattern, if they started drinking the moment they got up in the morning, and if they had ever thought about reducing their alcohol consumption. Based on the responses received, the Clinic concluded that 13 percent of the participants were dependent on alcohol. However, fitter people showed the least symptoms of being dependent on alcohol. The results from this questionnaire also reinforced the results found by the study.

Why do fitter people tend to drink more?  

Providing an answer for the why in the link, the researchers put forward a psychological phenomenon called the licensing effect. According to this, people who do something good, like exercise, usually do something bad, like drinking, to reward themselves. This was corroborated by evidence that suggested that people drank more on the days that they felt that they had exercised more.

On the other hand, a study conducted in 2014 by Leigh Leasure, from the University of Houston suggested that both drinking alcohol and exercising are influenced by the human tendency to seek a higher sensatory experience. The levels of dopamine released by the brain, in turn, influence this tendency. Dopamine is the feel-good chemical neurotransmitter released by the brain and both exercising and drinking alcohol can trigger its release. Taking the study further, the researchers categorized this behavior in four distinct motivational patterns. These were:

  • Body image and guilt: In both these motivational patterns, excessive drinking led to people exercising more.
  • Celebration and work-hard and play-hard: In both these motivational patterns, excessive exercising led to drinking more.

The way forward

Though both the studies provided a different answer to the why of the link, it is important to note that the findings were the same. So, whether you are drinking and exercising because of your individual characteristics or because of the licensing effect, drinking ultimately leads to alcohol dependence.

If you or a loved one are addicted to alcohol or any other substance, Invictus Health Group can help. We can connect you with our network of alcohol addiction treatment centers offering effective addiction treatment programs tailor-made for you. For further guidance on how to select the right addiction treatment in California, call our 24/7 helpline number (866) 548-0190 or chat online with our representatives.

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