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The Surprising Drinking Habit Fit People Live By, Says New Study

Fit people seem to have an increased craving for this popular beverage.

It's likely assumed that fit people love to be healthy. They're probably drinking lots of water, eating healthy meals, getting a good night's rest, and not drinking as much alcohol. But that assumption isn't entirely true. According to a recent study published by the American College of Sports Medicine, people who are physically fit tend to consume a lot more alcohol.

This cross-sectional study looked at over 38,000 participants who visited the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas for medical examinations over a 31 year period. Through fitness and treadmill tests, as well as evaluations on the dependency of alcohol consumption, researchers concluded that those with moderate and high fitness levels consumed moderate to heavy amounts of alcohol compared to their lower fitness counterparts—both for men and women. The study's conclusion recommends that "increasing fitness (via physical activity promotion) might consider concurrently aiming to reduce alcohol consumption."

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While the reasoning behind why higher alcohol consumption for fit people is still unknown, researchers have been diving into the link between exercise and alcohol consumption for years.

A 2015 review in Frontiers in Psychiatry concluded that physical activity and alcohol use are "functionally coupled" and typically adults drink more on the days they exercise. Surprisingly, the review also notes that "research to date does not suggest that this relation is necessarily harmful to health in non-dependent individuals."

Another study in 2016 from the British Journal of Sports Medicine also suggests that exercising can help to "cancel out" some of the risk factors associated with drinking—like a higher risk of death from chronic diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease. However, because it is an observational study, researchers state that it "suggests a relationship" between the two, and making a clear statement wouldn't be wise given more research would need to be done.

Multiple sources, however, state that alcohol consumption can negatively affect your physical performance—whether it is at the gym, playing a sport, or even in your everyday life. While the recent study does show a correlation between highly fit people and heavier drinking, it does not make the conclusion that alcohol should be consumed if someone is in shape—or getting in shape.

On the other hand, the study also doesn't say to cut it out completely. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that for adults, low levels of alcohol consumption are okay. Women should limit their consumption to one drink (or less) a day, and men can have up to two. Drinking in moderation is even a daily practice for some of the healthiest people in the world—like residents of the Blue Zones whose diets closely resemble the Mediterranean Diet, which encourages drinking red wine in moderation.

While more research is needed to understand the correlation between exercise and alcohol consumption, studies so far do show that a moderate amount of alcohol consumption for fit people—without dependency—can fit into an overall balanced diet.

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Kiersten Hickman
Kiersten Hickman is a freelance health and nutrition journalist. Read more about Kiersten