If you want to get healthy, it’s long been advised that you hit the gym. However, a new study claims that it may be equally important to hit the bar. The results of Danish research more than 30 years in the making reveal that moderate alcohol consumption may be as important to your health as exercising—especially in the fight against heart disease. Published in the European Heart Journal in January, the study, which began in 1976, tracked 11,914 Danes age 20 and over, monitoring both physical activity and alcohol consumption. A 30-32 percent decrease in the risk for heart disease was found among inactive or lightly active moderate drinkers—almost the same as the 31-33 percent decrease for non-drinkers who regularly exercised. The combination of moderate drinking and physical activity resulted in a 44-50 percent risk decrease.
These results aren’t as surprising as they may first seem, as alcohol and exercise have long been known to carry similar health benefits. "They help increase good cholesterol, or HDL [high-density lipoproteins], and clean the circulatory system’s pipes," Dr. Arthur Klatsky, a cardiologist at Kaiser Permanente, told Time. "HDL helps remove fatty deposits from blood-vessel walls. The higher the HDL, the less likely vascular disease becomes."
Moderate alcohol consumption was shown to improve overall health as well as decrease the risk of heart disease. However, the modifier moderate—defined as a glass of alcohol a day for women and up to two a day for men—is key. Within each level of physical activity, non-drinkers and heavy drinkers were shown to be at the highest risk for disease, which means that drinking to excess completely removes the benefits a healthy drinking pattern can provide—while also opening up a whole host of other problems unlikely to be experienced by teetotalers. What you drink may also play a factor: as other studies have suggested, wine drinkers generally experience greater benefits than those who drink beer or spirits. This, however, may be related to other lifestyle factors attributed to wine drinkers; wine tended to be the drink of choice among the most physically active participants in the Danish study.
But whether you prefer skiing and sipping spirits or weightlifting and wetting your whistle with wine, the important thing is that you do both (though not, it is somewhat unnecessary to note, at the same time). So walk, jog or run to the liquor store, and sweat and celebrate your way to a healthy heart.
(Updated: 02/26/08 AK)