(U-WIRE) BATON ROUGE, La. – Health fanatics may have something to “toast” for the new year.
The results of a 20-year study were published Jan. 9 in the European Heart Journal and found that moderate drinking combined with physical activity lowers the risk of heart disease and death from any cause by drastic amounts.
Morten Gronbaek, director of research at the National Institute of Public Health at the University of Southern Denmark, and a team of researchers gathered the health information of nearly 12,000 people and followed up with them for 20 years.
The study showed people who neither drink nor exercise have a 44 to 50 percent higher risk of developing fatal Ischaemic heart disease — a form of heart disease characterized by shortage of blood flow to the heart — than those who both drink moderately and remain physically active.
The study also found that at each level of physical activity, moderate drinkers had lower risks of developing heart disease than non-drinkers.
Compared to inactive non-drinkers, drinking without exercise can reduce the risk of heart disease by 30 to 32 percent. Similarly, exercise alone can reduce the risk of heart disease by 31 to 33 percent.
Additionally, those who abstain from drinking or exercising have a 12 to 33 percent higher risk of death from any cause than physically active drinkers.
Within each level of physical activity, moderate drinkers had the lowest risk of death from any cause. Researchers found that non-drinkers’ risk was similar to that of heavy drinkers.
“The lowest risk of death from all causes was observed among the physically active moderate drinkers, and the highest risk among the physically inactive non-drinkers and heavy drinkers,” Jane Ostergaard Pedersen, lead author of the study, said in a news release.
Pedersen said it is important to balance moderate drinking with exercise in order to achieve the full benefit.
“Neither physical activity alone nor alcohol intake can completely reverse the increased risk associated with alcohol abstention and lack of physical activity,” Pedersen said. “Thus, both moderate to high levels of physical activity and a moderate alcohol intake are important for lowering the risk of fatal IHD and deaths from all causes.”
Hayley Childress, Louisiana State University kinesiology sophomore, was not expecting a study showing the benefits of alcohol consumption.
“All that we hear about are the negative effects of drinking,” Childress said.
But Gronbaek said young people should not use this as an excuse to drink.
“You wouldn’t advise everyone to drink,” Gronbaek told CNN.com. “You shouldn’t even think about doing it until age 45 or 50 because the prevention of coronary heart disease is only relevant until this age for most people. There’s absolutely no proof of a preventative and protective effect before age 45.”
Childress believes some people might increase their drinking habits after learning of this study.
“If people that drink socially know that there’s not going to be such a negative effect, then I’m sure they won’t be as stressed out about it,” Childress said. “I know my dad will probably try to show this study to my mom, like ‘look I can drink more!'”
While some people are aware of the health benefits of drinking red wine, this study showed that any type of alcohol can be beneficial. One drink consisted of a bottle of beer, a glass of wine or an ounce of liquor.
Ashleigh Mazerac, political science freshman, was aware of the benefits of drinking wine, but she was surprised to learn other types of alcohol were also healthy.
“If anything, I would think exercise would be used to cancel out the bad effects of alcohol,” Mazerac said. “I never would have thought they would combine and benefit you.”
Moderate drinking was defined as one to 14 drinks per week.
The suggested amount for women is one drink a day, while men are recommended to drink two drinks a day.
Inactive was defined as engaging in light physical activity for less than two hours a week. Anything more was considered physically active.
Many studies in the past have documented the health benefits of drinking or exercising separately, but according to Gronbaek, this study is the first to measure the combined benefits.
“The main finding is there seems to be an additional beneficial effect of drinking one to two drinks per day and doing at least moderate physical activity,” Gronbaek said, according to the Reuters Web site.
The results are consistent with a study published Jan. 7 documenting that exercising, moderate drinking, eating fruits and vegetables and not smoking can add up to 14 years to a person’s life.
The study admitted certain limitations to the research including participants misrepresenting their alcohol intake or amount of physical activity. In spite of these limitations, the results were reported with 95 percent accuracy.