Alcohol and Exercise

This week I’m going to wade into the subject gently. You see, the funny thing about alcohol is, I know a whole lot about what it does to the body, but I avoid writing about it for one simple reason; everyone drinks. Maybe not everyone drinks, that isn’t true, but the vast majority of adults, and teenagers, drink at least socially.

I’m not going to get into the discussion today about what defines social drinking versus habitual drinking, because that is fodder for a debate I’m not looking to get into. What your opinion is on where alcohol fits into your own life is your own business.

For the record, it has been four years, going on five, since I have even had a drop of alcohol. The reason why I don’t drink is because I’ve done a lot of research on it and understand what it does to the body and its chemistry. It isn’t a rule that I’ve made, or a personal challenge, or a court order, or something I’ve sworn not to do as the result of a 12 step program, I just don’t want to anymore. To do so no longer seems like a logical decision.

I digress however, as today I’d like to look into a specific study that looked at alcohol consumption and the effect it had on exercise duration. At first I found these results to be somewhat surprising, but the more I looked at them the more sense it made. This study was first published in the American Journal of Health Promotion. The parameters that were set on heavy, moderate, and abstaining drinkers were as follows; heavy male drinkers drank 76 drinks per week and women 46 drinks per week. Moderate male drinkers drank between 30 to 75 drinks per week, and moderate female drinkers consumed between 15 to 45 drinks per week. Abstainers drank no alcohol at all.

The findings of this study were that the heavy drinkers exercised more than those who didn’t drink – 20 minutes more per week on average than their non drinking counterparts. The same was true of moderate drinkers as well. They exercised an average of 10 minutes per week more than those who didn’t drink. Looking at these statistics on their own, you could conclude that alcohol helps you to train longer.

Before you decide that alcohol is a miracle motivational supplement, you need to consider a few things. The first of those is guilt. For any human being, guilt it a powerful motivator. Have you ever had an epic (and unscheduled) cheat meal? I know I’ve had a few thousand of those, and the result the next day in the gym is that I work as hard as I can in an attempt to undo the damage. I think it is safe to assume that those that drink heavily and train also seriously are governed somewhat by this same rule.

Another possibility is simply the idea of extremes. If someone is a heavy drinker, as in 76 or more drinks per week, then it’s pretty safe to say they enjoy a life lived in the extreme zone. If their drinking falls into this category, then chances are that most of what they do does as well. It then stands to reason that their exercising would be no exception.

A third possibility is simply anxiety. Two very effective ways to manage anxiety are through rigorous exercise, bordering on obsessive, and alcohol. Keep in mind I said effective. I did not say healthy or advisable. The one two punch of burning up your anxious energy in the day by weight training and cardio, and then depressing that same energy in the evenings with alcohol is a method used by many to self medicate a potentially bigger issue than they may even be aware of.

Having said all of this, I’m not saying drinking alcohol is a bad thing. It’s a choice like anything else. Some people don’t eat meat, wear fur, or celebrate Christmas. We are all individuals, and to me it is the acceptance of those individual traits that makes up a sophisticated society. I am however, going to be bringing to your attention in the next little while, some of the facts regarding alcohol, weight training, muscle and fat loss, so that you can better make an informed decision. Until then, keep working hard, regardless of the motivational force behind your efforts.

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