TWO RUNNERS WALK INTO A BAR…
No, this isn’t the beginning of a tired joke, it’s an increasingly common real-life occurrence. And research shows that, once inside, those avid runners—and other frequent exercisers—tend to accrue bigger tabs than the average bar patron. Picture the Cheers gang clad in head-to-toe sweat-wicking spandex.
A 2009 study from the University of Miami found that the more people exercise, the more they drink—with the most active women consuming the highest amounts every month. It’s a peculiar phenomenon that has had scientists scratching their heads since 1990, when research first pinpointed the alcohol-exercise connection. But they expected that, at some point, the script would be flipped—that the biggest boozers would exercise less. Never happened.
Instead, this landmark 2009 analysis of more than 230,000 men and women revealed that, on average, drinkers of both genders and all ages (not just wild twentysomethings) were 10 percent more likely to engage in vigorous exercise like running. Heavy drinkers exercised 10 minutes more each week than moderate drinkers and 20 minutes more than abstainers. An extra bender actually increased the number of minutes of total and vigorous exercise the men and women did that week.
“There’s this misconception that heavy drinkers are exercise-averse couch potatoes,” explains study author Michael T. French, Ph.D., a professor of health economics at the University of Miami. “That may be true in some cases, but that’s certainly not what we’ve found.”
This trend seems particularly pronounced in women—especially active, educated women, who, according to recent research from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, are drinking more than ever. In part, progress may be the root of this evil: With growing numbers of women in the workplace and other male-dominated arenas, it has become increasingly socially acceptable for women to go out and belly up to the bar alongside their male counterparts—and to overdo it.
Working Out to Work It Off
One simple theory scientists have to support the drinking-exercise connection is the morning-after phenomenon. In this case, the party girl who downs a few appletinis (and maybe some mozzarella sticks) feels the need to repent for those calories by banging out five or six miles the next morning.
“Women who consume alcohol could simply be exercising more to burn it off and avoid weight gain,” says French. “Likewise, they may drink more simply because they can, as they know they’re burning calories, so they’re less worried about the weight gain.”
But exercising to atone for the sins of the night before doesn’t explain why someone would chase an indoor cycling class with a round of drinks, which also happens with staggering frequency. This, researchers say, could be the product of a “work hard, play hard” personality type. “There are people who are sensation seekers,” says Ana M. Abrantes, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School. “They engage in activities that produce intense sensations and can be quickly bored by things that don’t produce those feelings.”
For others, it might be a matter of blowing off stress. Which may be why some women offset their tension with a boot-camp class, or by getting loaded, or both. “Exercising stimulates the release of serotonin, which is your natural antidepressant, as well as dopamine, which is the primary neurotransmitter in your brain’s reward center. It makes us feel good,” says brain chemistry researcher J. David Glass, Ph.D., a professor at Kent State University. Alcohol has a similar effect—hence, the buzz you get soothes your worries (if only temporarily).
Published: January 19, 2012 | By Selene Yeager
Women’s Health Magazine
For the study, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) tracked the exercise habits of 3.7 million adults across the country for more than 10 years. Researchers found that the number of women who met the recommended exercise guidelines (150 minutes per week) rose by four percent nationwide—compared to the one percent increase for men.
The West, Midwest, and South—which had low exercise rates early in the experiment—showed the most improvement. The results suggest that public health initiatives effectively encouraged more people to exercise in these areas, says lead study author Christopher Murray, MD, director of IHME.
Ready for the bad news? Despite the fact that many counties reported higher exercise rates by the end of the study, Murray says obesity rates didn’t drop by much. In Routt, Colorado, for example, 74 percent of women reported more physical activity, but the county only experienced a .5 percent decrease in obesity.
Murray says this might be because people are burning fewer calories than they consume. (You still have to watch what you eat to keep your weight in check, even if you’re active.)
That said, exercise is an important part of weight maintenance—not to mention good health. If you want to start working out, try one of these beginner-friendly routines:
Use these secrets to peel off pounds!
- Fire up your metabolism with intervals, one study found that doing 10 four minute speed bursts with two minutes of slow walking or cycling after each (60 minutes total) three times a week upped the body’s ability to use fat as fuel during exercise by 25% after six weeks. “Shoot for an eight or nine on an intensity scale of one to ten, when ten is an all out sprint” says lead researcher Christopher Perry Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at the University of Guelph in Canada.
- Jot down meals and moves. People who used an online weight control program were more likely to lose pounds when they regularly recorded their weight loss, calories consumed and activity.
- Sleep off the flab, getting between six and eight hours of shut-eye a night helped dieters shed more weight in a recent study from Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Oregon. “Plus consistently increasing your sleep, even if only by 30 minutes at night, and sticking to a regular bed-and wake times can provide you a burst of alertness and help prepare you for your workout” says Cheri D. Mah, sleep expert at the Standford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory.
- Bypass the fat burning zone, forget this sweet spot, when you go slow in order to sizzle a higher percentage of calories from fat: Burning more total calories at the highest intensity that you can sustain means you will also burn more overall fat.
- Crack an egg for breakfast, go for a little extra protein first thing in the day and your brain will stave off the munchies later on, according to findings from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Former breakfast skippers who ate a morning meal with a side of yogurt showed fewer feed-me brain impulses and felt fuller.
Fitness Magazine September 2011