Health experts recommend drinking alcohol in moderation over drinking in excess, and now new research has found that drinking responsibly may be better for your heart than not drinking at all, Medical Daily reported.

Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston studied data on 14,629 people aged 45 to 64 who were participating in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study from 1987 to 1989. The participants were followed up until 2011 and interviewed four times about their drinking habits. A drink was defined as either one small glass of wine (about 125 mL), about 12 ounces of beer, or a little less than a shot of whisky or vodka.

Study authors found that moderate alcohol consumption— seven drinks per week— was associated with a 20 percent lower risk of heart failure in men and a 16 percent lower risk in women, compared to non-drinkers.

“These findings suggest that drinking alcohol in moderation does not contribute to an increased risk of heart failure and may even be protective,” study author Dr. Scott Solomon, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of noninvasive cardiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said in a news release. “No level of alcohol intake was associated with a higher risk of heart failure. However, heavy alcohol  use is certainly a risk factor for deaths from any cause.”

The data also showed that former drinkers were most likely to develop heart failure— men had a 19 percent higher risk, women had a 17 percent higher risk. Over time, excessive drinking begins to weaken the heart muscles, leading to cardiomyopathy and eventually to heart failure. Symptoms of heart failure include shortness of breath, fatigue and nausea.

“This could be related to the reasons why they had stopped drinking in the first place, for instance because they had already developed health problems that might have made them more likely to go on to develop heart failure,” Solomon said.

Previous studies have shown moderate alcohol consumption may reduce the risk of heart failure. These benefits may be derived from antioxidants found in both beer and wine, according to Medical Daily. Wine has heart-healthy resveratrol while beer has polyphenols.

Researchers noted that  their findings do not prove causality— drinking in moderation is no guarantee that you won’t have heart failure.

Click for more from Medical Daily.