People who drink regularly seem to exercise more often than teetotalers, and those who average more than a drink or two a day may be the most active, a new study suggests.
Using data from a government health survey of U.S. adults, researchers found that in general, the amount of time people devoted to exercise tended to inch up along with the number of alcoholic drinks they had each month.
Compared with abstainers, those considered heavy drinkers — at least 46 drinks in the past month for women, and 76 or more for men — exercised for an average of 20 minutes more per week.
Meanwhile, moderate drinkers — which included women who had 15 to 45 drinks in a month, and men who had 30 to 75 — got 10 extra minutes of exercise each week.
Both moderate and heavy drinkers were also more likely to report vigorous exercise, like jogging, than either light drinkers or abstainers, the researchers report in the American Journal of Health Promotion.
Compared with nondrinkers, adults in both groups were about 14 percent more likely to say they got some vigorous exercise in a typical week.
Not surprisingly, the findings do not mean that drinking is the key to launching an active lifestyle.
"We certainly would not advocate that abstainers should start drinking or light drinkers should start drinking heavily as a way to increase their exercise," lead researcher Dr. Michael T. French, of the University of Miami, told Reuters Health in an email.
But, he added, the fact that people who drink, at varying levels, are all generally more active than non-drinkers is a finding "worth exploring further."
One potential reason for the link, French noted, is that some regular drinkers use exercise as a way to counteract the calories from alcohol. It's also possible that drinking at "responsible" levels is a maker of a generally healthy lifestyle, the researcher said.
For its part, relatively heavy drinking might be part of a "sensation- seeking" lifestyle for some people, French and his colleagues speculate.
Some heavier drinkers may, for example, be the types who tend toward more-adventurous outdoor activities like skiing or rock climbing. Others may play team sports, which often includes a trip to the bar after a game.
French pointed out that excessive drinking and alcohol abuse — any drinking habits that are harmful to a person's work, relationships or health — are well known to have "serious psychological and physical consequences."
Moderate drinking, on the other hand, has been linked to potential health benefits, including a decreased risk of heart disease. While part of that might be attributed to moderate drinkers' overall lifestyle — which, based on this study, includes higher exercise levels — research also suggests that alcohol has some direct benefits, like elevated levels of "good" HDL cholesterol.
To gain those potential benefits while reducing the chances of harm, experts generally recommend that women have no more than one drink per day and men no more than two.